The captain of a billionaire-owned superyacht turned away from New Zealand says the time it took the Government to make a decision left them circling the Pacific for eight weeks, running low on fuel and food and desperately needing safety repairs.
The 85m-long pleasure craft Bold received Ministry of Health approval to enter New Zealand in mid-February, but had been sheltering at Minerva Reef south of Tonga and Fiji due to bad weather and while it awaited visa confirmations.
But the superyacht was subsequently denied visas for a third of its crew, forcing it to make a mercy dash to Fiji.
To add to its woes, it was revealed one of the crew members tested positive for Covid-19 on arrival on March 6.
Fiji health authorities said the case, a 44-year-old male, was a "weak positive", meaning it was likely a historical case and not infectious.
The crew member was still placed in quarantine on land as per standard precautions, and the rest of the crew remained quarantined on the vessel for a 14-day period.
There had been concerns raised about it potentially spreading the virus to vulnerable islands, due to having Covid-19 onboard and the superyacht having spent over two months travelling around the Pacific since it left Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.
There was also a report by the Vanuatu Broadcasting and Television Corporation that the vessel had made an illicit landing in the archipelago and had been fined.
But Captain Todd Leech told the Herald this was not the case.
"As we came though Vanuatu slowly to shelter from bad weather, we were asked to provide information as to who we were to Vanuatu customs, as they have the right to ask for vessel passing through their national waters.
"At no time did we stop, anchor or come into contact with anyone, or endanger our or their isolation."
Leech provided the Herald a copy from Vanuatu officials attesting to this.
He refused to comment on if a fine had been issued, only stating: "That is all settled on both sides, and no wrong was done."
"There is a bunch of 20 something Aussies and Kiwis out here who have done nothing wrong, endangered no one, and are not an evil billionaire's henchmen.
"We are caught up in the same pandemic as everyone else, we are just stuck halfway though a world cruise when the pandemic started."
The superyacht is owned by billionaire German industrialist and superyacht builder Guido Krass, who is currently also on board.
Leech said they had applied to the New Zealand Ministry of Health to enter the country on January 8, under a rule requiring they spend at least $50,000 on refit work.
They were approved on February 18, and then applied for the crew visas the same day as they had to wait for the MOH approval first before submitting visas.
However, they did not receive the negative decision until March 5 that Immigration NZ deemed seven of the 23 staff not "required for the operation of bringing the ship to New Zealand".
They straight away made the journey to Fiji, where they were quickly approved for entry under the Fijian "Blue Lanes" quarantine system designed for arrivals by sea.
Leech said the time it took the NZ Government to make these decisions left it in a precarious situation.
"Due to New Zealand taking over eight weeks for decision on our entry for critical safety maintenance works, we have been circling in the Pacific low on food and fuel, and all with overdue safety equipment."
Now the superyacht was looking to travel to Australia to have the refit and repair work done, thought to be worth millions of dollars.
On the positive Covid-19 case in Fiji, Leech said they had "taken pains to be as safe and isolated as possible"
"This unfortunate result is of a historic, not contagious and very low level has been dealt with 100 per cent in accordance with Fiji health requirements.
"Where our crew member most likely has remains of virus from last year before starting work on our ship in December 2020."
The crew member had tested positive twice before in the past few months, and all other crew have otherwise been tested and returned negative results in the same time frame, Leech said.
Immigration NZ National Border Manager Peter Elms said Bold had requested 23 crew be granted visas as "marine crew", but they'd determined seven crew members with predominately passenger-facing roles did not meet the criteria of being required for the operation of bringing the ship to New Zealand.
"It is the ship owner's responsibility to ensure they fully understand the immigration process, their legal obligations and allow sufficient time to secure all of the necessary approvals before seeking to enter New Zealand," Elms said.
"Anyone wanting to come to New Zealand must make sure they have the appropriate immigration approval before making any plans or beginning their journey."