The crew of a German yacht who sailed into New Zealand breaking the country's Covid-19 border restrictions left the country on a flight yesterday afternoon.
Their departure was confirmed in a brief statement from Immigration New Zealand. No other details were provided.
The crew were held in police custody after a Warrant of Commitment hearing took place on Tuesday with the court granting Immigration NZ permission to detain the crew until Friday.
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The crew, aged in their late 20s to early 30s, were intercepted by NZ Customs on Friday last week as they headed into Opua.
NZ Customs had been alerted that the boat was still planning to breach New Zealand's border restrictions after being denied exemption visas by the Ministry of Health.
INZ national manager border and visa operations Peter Elms said earlier the German nationals were taken to Auckland where they have been detained in police custody pending a flight out of New Zealand.
16-metre vessel called Anita was moved on Friday from the Quarantine Dock to another berth at the Opua Marina, where it remains while an investigation is carried out by NZ Customs.
A New Zealand Customs spokesperson said the vessel was liable for seizure and duty liability under the Customs and Excise Act and was being held in Customs' control pending further investigation and evaluation. The timeframe for the investigation is unknown at this stage.
The yacht's arrival caused a stir in the sleepy Bay of Islands' town.
Residents in homes overlooking the bay spotted the yacht arriving on Friday afternoon with a yellow flag on its mast indicating it was from overseas.
An Opua resident, who did not want to be named, was at the marina when the yacht, called Anita, arrived about 3pm escorted by the Customs NZ patrol vessel Hawk V.
The crew were making no secret of the yacht's arrival, flying its yellow maritime flag, she said. The flag was used to indicate that a vessel was free of quarantine disease and to request boarding and inspection.
A large crowd gathered at the marina including Customs officers, three police cars and a pop-up Covid testing station.
"There were a lot of police and Customs down at the marina. There were definitely a lot more people there than there usually are."
The resident said when the borders were open Opua received a lot of yachties from overseas because it was their first stop in New Zealand, but this year there had been very few boats arriving, especially displaying the yellow flag. They would usually clear Customs and then head towards Whangārei and further south.
Another local said it all happened quite quickly and they did not see the three crew on the yacht at the marina.
While no charges have been laid against the crew, Immigration NZ has said the refusal of entry to New Zealand could have long-term consequences. Their visa waiver status could be suspended and it could affect their ability to travel to other countries.
The Ministry of Health confirmed at the weekend that all three had returned negative Covid-19 tests and had been isolating on the boat for more than 14 days.
Under the current rules, foreign fishing or cargo ships are allowed to enter New Zealand.
Any other vessels must be granted an exemption by the director general of health. The reason needed to be compelling such as refuelling or resupplying, or delivering to a business for repairing or refitting.
Exemptions could also be granted for humanitarian reasons, but this was unlikely to be granted solely for financial loss or for vessels wanting to dock up during the Pacific cyclone season.
- additional reporting Nikki Preston