More than 50 cruise ship passengers were left stranded on an Auckland wharf after being refused entry for not having appropriate visas.
This is despite cruise ship operator P&O Cruises’ customer service department telling passengers they didn’t need Australian visas to enter their destination of Norfolk Island if they were permanent New Zealand residents.
The passengers’ luggage had already been checked and put in their cabins aboard the Pacific Explorer, leaving the expectant holidaymakers stranded on Queens Wharf on July 17 for hours.
Sixty-six-year-old passenger Nancy Li told Te Waha Nui “I felt like crying”, saying the ordeal left her tired and angry.
Some affected passengers also told the student magazine they hadn’t received a refund or didn’t know where they could lodge complaints.
A spokeswoman for P&O Cruises confirmed the incident and said the issue was due to P&O Cruises giving a travel agent the wrong advice on visa requirements.
Affected passengers showed Te Waha Nui copies of online chats and emails from P&O’s customer service department saying permanent New Zealand residents didn’t need Australian visas to visit Norfolk Island.
However, travellers do need Australian visas to travel to Norfolk Island, one of the country’s external territories, according to travel information on the Australian government’s website.
Affected passengers said they hadn’t received an explanation or apology from P&O.
The company’s spokeswoman said: “Guests and travel agents are sent emails and an SMS advising them of the need to check entry requirements. P&O Cruises’ pre-cruise communications stated the correct information.”
Passengers bought their tickets in August 2022. “We [had] been preparing and looking forward to this trip for a year,” Li told Te Waha Nui.
The 13-day cruise takes tourists around different Pacific islands, Australia and New Zealand. The Pacific Explorer was to return to Auckland on July 30.
P&O’s spokeswoman said affected passengers were “supported upon denial of boarding by providing full refunds and future cruise credits”.
She said “any guest [who] was a customer of [the] travel agent [and was given the wrong information] is encouraged to check with their travel agent regarding the refund and credit”.
One passenger’s daughter, Jenny Huo, told Te Waha Nui the incident was evidence of P&O’s “significant negligence”.
“Many travel agencies and passengers repeatedly asked them, and they didn’t confirm. The response was still, ‘Visas not needed’,” Huo said.
Zhang Holley said border officials were difficult to work with and wouldn’t let them through without visas.
“We showed them our chat records with P&O staff who clearly said we didn’t need visas. But they insisted that it was not acceptable,” Holley told Te Waha Nui.
Li claimed P&O staff were unhelpful and condescending, saying they offered “no comforting or understanding words”.
“I was very angry at the time, but my English wasn’t good so I couldn’t argue with them,” Li said.
When passengers’ luggage was retrieved, Li spent over three hours trying to return home from town, carrying a heavy suitcase in high heels.
“When I got home, it was already past 8pm. I was tired and angry, and after a day of struggle, I felt like crying,” Li said.
One family showed Te Waha Nui receipts for their trip, showing they had spent almost $15,000 on tickets.