Parrot allowed in but will be watched like a hawk

By Anne Beston

An exotic parrot which lives on a yacht belonging to the owner of Chelsea Football Club has been granted entry to New Zealand - but will be confined to quarters for the duration of its stay.

The African grey, on board Le Grand Bleu, the 100m-long yacht owned by multibillionaire Roman Abramovich, must stay caged on the yacht at all times and be checked daily by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

The yacht is near Tonga, but due in New Zealand within the next couple of weeks - the DPA news agency reported it would be as early as this Friday.

The bird will be tested for disease in Auckland before being allowed elsewhere. Any sign of disease, including avian influenza, and the bird will have to leave.

"It's an interesting tale, but there are serious implications," said Biosecurity New Zealand animal imports manager Gillian Mylrea.

"We needed to be satisfied the bird did not pose an undue risk of introducing bird or other diseases into NZ."

Officials had considered barring the yacht from entering the country because there is no import health standard for parrots, even transitory ones.

"That hasn't stopped parrots before, but they have all stayed on board at the port of first arrival," Ms Mylrea said.

"We understand the vessel intends to visit elsewhere in New Zealand while it is here, and that was the issue we needed to tidy up."

Crew aboard Le Grand Bleu were understood to be happy with the rules.

"They welcomed the news, and they have co-operated throughout," said Biosecurity NZ communications manager Phil Barclay, adding that the agency had not asked for a cash bond.

The boat will dock at Auckland's Princes Wharf.

Allan Jouning, New Zealand agent for the yacht, said publicity concerning the parrot had upset the crew.

"They might not even turn up now. They are not happy."

It is not known if 38-year-old Mr Abramovich will join the yacht while it is here. Little is known about him. He is one of the entrepreneurs who took advantage of the privatisation of Russia's state assets in the mid-1990s.

He made his $18 billion fortune in oil trading but also has insurance, aluminium and airline investments. He dislikes publicity and does not like to see himself quoted.

Since buying Chelsea for 130 million pounds ($324 million) in 2003, he has routinely refused to be interviewed.

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