New Zealand Deports Yacht Crew for Defying COVID-19 Immigration Ban

immigration yacht
Bay of Islands, New Zealand (file image)

Published Sep 27, 2020 3:21 PM by The Maritime Executive

Immigration authorities in New Zealand are deporting three German sailors who arrived in the Bay of Islands aboard a yacht without prior permission. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand has refused entry to the yachting community, with exceptions for refits, repairs and humanitarian emergencies. Australia has also closed its doors to travel for non-essential personnel. The controversial policies expose at least 300 valuable pleasure vessels to the risk of damage or loss due to the impending South Pacific cyclone season.

"Having received advice from Ministry of Health officials, I have determined that a potential future cyclone does not provide sufficient basis to warrant an exemption . . . While I will determine whether permission is granted for a ship to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis, my assessment is that the vessels in question are not facing a cyclone at present, but rather the prospect of a potential cyclone or cyclones in future. Therefore, there is no compelling need for the ships in question to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons," wrote Director-General for Health Dr. Ashley Bloomfield. 

This message did not deter everyone. According to the nation's Ministry of Health, three German sailors recently arrived in the Bay of Islands aboard the 52-foot sailing yacht Anita without prior permission. AIS data suggests that the vessel departed Nuku Hiva, French Polynesia about two and a half months ago, well after New Zealand's restrictions on all travel but before the ministry's clarification regarding yachts.

The health ministry noted that the crew did not apply for a waiver for the vessel before leaving their port of origin. When the request was submitted, it was declined because "the Director-General of Health was not reasonably satisfied that the ship had a compelling need to arrive in New Zealand." Since they arrived in New Zealand without a waiver, they will be deported.

"New Zealand's border restrictions are in place for a very good reason – to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of New Zealand's population," said Peter Elms, the national manager of border and visa operations for Immigration NZ. "The action by these individuals to knowingly travel here without approval demonstrates a blatant disregard for New Zealand's border restrictions and will not be tolerated . . . The swift response to this situation should send a clear message to others who might consider doing similar. Attempting to breach New Zealand's border controls is a serious matter and will be dealt with accordingly."

Elms said that the record of deportation will stay with the three sailors and may impede their ability to travel to other countries as well. 

The fate of their vessel is not yet known. It has been detained by New Zealand customs officials pending further investigation, and it could be liable to seizure, an agency spokeswoman told the New Zealand Herald. 

While stringent, New Zealand's health policies have effectively suppressed COVID-19 in the general population, and the country regularly posts multi-day stretches with no new cases. On Sunday, two cases were reported - both in a managed quarantine facility for persons arriving from outside the country.