Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Survivors tell Customs to back off heroes

Rescued pair Tania Davies and Steve Jones greet waiting family at Devonport Navy base from HMNZS Otago. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Rescued pair Tania Davies and Steve Jones greet waiting family at Devonport Navy base from HMNZS Otago. Photo / Steven McNicholl

A couple hailed as heroes after coming to the rescue of a sinking yacht face being forced out of New Zealand because they cannot afford to keep their damaged vessel here.

Bruce and Marcelle Parsons' yacht suffered damage last month when they sailed into a violent storm off the coast of Tonga, and helped New Zealander Tania Davies and her British partner Steve Jones on their sinking boat.

Yesterday Mr Parsons said Customs had made its final decision this week not to allow them to dock their damaged yacht in the country without paying entrance fees of $14,500.

Customs says the fees are taxes associated with bringing an asset, bought overseas, into New Zealand.

The amount is too much for Mr Parsons, who holds New Zealand and Australian passports, which meant he came to the country as a resident and not a tourist.

He says he cannot afford legal costs to appeal Customs' decision, and faces flying his wife home to South Africa while he makes a difficult crossing of the Tasman to Australia.

He said labourers were unable to repair his boat before Christmas so he had planned to do maintenance in the New Year before leaving New Zealand by June, when it was safer to sail across the Tasman.

Mr Parsons, whose boat has been berthed at Opua Harbour in the Bay of Islands for a month, has been given 20 days to pay the Customs fees or leave.

Ms Davies, who was plucked from the yacht Windigo last month, said Customs should give Mr and Mrs Parsons time to pay the fees because of their "heroic" actions in coming to her and her partner's aid.

"We owe them thanks from the bottom of our hearts because it's an unbelievable thing, the risk they took," Ms Davies said.

"They will be friends for life."

Jan and Kevin Burnell, of Opua, have also taken up the fight for the couple. The local representatives for the Island Cruising Association said New Zealand should welcome them home as heroes.

Mrs Burnell said the Coastguard asked the Parsons to stand by Windigo in its time of need at a time when they "really needed to get out of Dodge".

"In doing so, they sustained a lot of additional damage to their boat that they otherwise might not have," Mrs Burnell said.

The wooden boat took on water, and suffered a broken bowsprit and steering problems that forced Mr Parsons to hand-steer from Tonga to New Zealand.

"These two people have had a horrendous passage; lots of damage, loss of sleep, and in low physical and mental condition, and then get this news," Mrs Burnell said.

"They're not trying to get around the law - it was just a shock. They need time to get their health back, to do their repairs."

Anyone who can help Mr and Mrs Parsons can contact Bruce on 022 320 7579.



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