A New Zealand fly-in, fly-out worker in Azerbaijan says he is "effectively barred" from seeing his family due to the Government's mandatory two-week managed isolation.

Derek Lees works four weeks on and four weeks off as a drilling supervisor on a rig in the Caspian Sea, supplying natural gas to Europe.

While he "absolutely understands" the requirement to keep Covid-19 out of New Zealand, in his situation - and for "many others" like him - he believes the Government is being unnecessarily strict.

Due to his rotation, and minimum four-day travel each way to get to his rural home in Puhoi, north of Auckland, the hotel isolation would mean he'd only have a few days with his wife and children before needing to return overseas, while also costing the taxpayer roughly $4000.

Derek Lees, drilling supervisor for Maersk Drilling, on a rig in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. Photo / Supplied
Derek Lees, drilling supervisor for Maersk Drilling, on a rig in the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan. Photo / Supplied

He put together a "robust" self isolation plan, including all the health requirements and showing how he would drive himself from the airport and carry out his isolation in their separated garage, with zero cost to the taxpayer, but his pleas have been flatly rejected.

"There must be loads of people like me, and it looks like New Zealand is going to remain relatively closed to the world for some time, so it is frustrating the Government won't even acknowledge it is an issue," Lees told the Herald from the Caspian Sea.

He compared his situation to airline workers who were exempt from the two-week managed isolation and only required to self-isolate, with the reasoning it was prohibitive for their profession.

"It is not like I am dipping in and out on holiday, this is my fulltime profession, and through this policy I am effectively barred from coming back and seeing my family," Lees said.

Lees, originally from Scotland, has been living in Puhoi with his Kiwi wife and their three children for the past 20 years.

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During that time he has worked in the energy sector all over the world, working four weeks on, and four weeks off.

For the past six years he has been based in Azerbaijan, most recently working on a rig in the Caspian Sea for BP.

European demand for gas has not slowed during the Covid-19 outbreak, and if anything political reasons meant it had increased, meaning the only way he could get any extended time away from the rig would be to resign.


Normally it would take about two days to get home, but with regular flights out of Azerbaijan stopped while the country was in lockdown, he would need to take a BP charter flight to London, before a few more flights to make it back to New Zealand.

Azerbaijan itself was experiencing a significant outbreak, with about 25,000 cases so far, over 300 deaths, and over 500 new cases a day.

Out on the rig Lees said they were isolated from the outbreak, although every two weeks he had to go back on land, ironically for health and safety reasons, but then he was isolated in a hotel room.

However, he understood why New Zealand was cautious about letting people in from areas like where he was.

"At first [the time away] was OK, but now we just don't know how long this is going to go on for, and the border could be closed well into next year," Lees said.

"I just feel like there is a lack of trust. My plan is robust, I'd even be happy to fit a tracker.


"I'd be isolated from my family but still near them. My quality of life would be greatly enhanced."

A spokeswoman for the Covid-19 All of Government Response Group did not address any questions the Herald asked about fly-in, fly-out workers.

"To stop Covid-19 spreading into our communities, recent arrivals are required to stay in managed isolation for 14 days," she said.

"During their stay, people are tested around day three and day 12, and no one is released without a negative test.

"While New Zealand is at alert level 1 and Covid-19 is contained in New Zealand, the disease is uncontrolled overseas and managed isolation is how we are protecting all New Zealanders."