By Amy Williams of RNZ
The largest superyacht destined for New Zealand in time for tomorrow's America's Cup has confirmed it has been denied entry because Immigration NZ considers its crew too big a bubble.
The 85m-long pleasure craft Bold is anchored at Fiji with more than 20 crew onboard, including the vessel's owner, German industrialist Guido Krass.
The superyacht now plans to head to Australia, meaning New Zealand companies miss out on refit work understood to be worth $750,000.
Speaking from the helm, Captain Todd Leech said Immigration denied visas for a third of the crew.
"New Zealand for very good reason has very strict rules about who comes to the country to restrict coronavirus and we 100 per cent thought that we don't want to spread coronavirus as much as anyone else, probably more so," Leech said.
"In the end, their strict rules, we really tried to make them work for us and for the boat but we couldn't do it, it couldn't fit with how our boat runs."
The rules meant it would have to let go one-third of the vessel's crew to enter the country.
"We have people who live here, literally live here for years at a time on board. It's their home, they live here, they work here and New Zealand wanted us to fire them, send them home.
"They weren't welcome anymore and we just couldn't fire part of our family and send them back from where they came just so the boat could enter New Zealand."
He said Bold had strict pandemic protocols on board and ashore and operated as a superyacht bubble.
"All our time at sea the owners and the crew are quite scared of coronavirus so we literally don't go ashore," Leech said.
"We will go to an uninhabited beach or go for a swim at an offshore reef but we have not been going into town. I can't tell you the last time I went to a restaurant or bar - that was many, many months ago.
"We've been isolated for the whole year now. I've got three Kiwis on board who haven't been on land since September and they were so close to getting home. It's really quite crushing."
Only 30 vessels have gained approval to enter New Zealand under the $50,000 refit rule, of which 20 are in local waters.
Bold is one of the 10 not yet here.
It is only after gaining the ministry's approval under the refit rule that crews can apply for visas as critical workers.
Leech would not confirm the exact worth of the refit work, but it was substantial.
"We are in the Asia Pacific region and New Zealand as you know is one of the hubs to get this refit and repair done," said Leech.
"We've got critical safety works, we've got liferaft and life jackets that all need to be refurbished. I don't want to get into the details of the actual numbers but let's just say we'd clear the $50,000 in the first few days."
RNZ has approached Immigration NZ for comment.