Sport and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson has confirmed Team New Zealand returned to on-water testing under Covid-19 Alert Level 3 restrictions.
Team New Zealand were confined to land during the lockdown phase of the global pandemic and while the country has since progressed to Alert Level 3, sailing as a recreational activity is not permitted.
The America's Cup holders have, however, been spotted sailing on the Waitemata Harbour.
During lockdown only emergency boats were permitted on the water. Under Alert Level 3, primary sector businesses and support services are allowed to operate, as long as they adhere to strict hygiene and social distancing measures. This extends to commercial fishers, aquaculture farmers and ultimately left the door ajar for Team NZ.
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As they await the return of their AC75 Te Aihe boat from Europe, Team NZ sailed their smaller-scale Te Kāhu with four crew members on board in recent days.
Speaking to the Herald, Robertson believed the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) signed-off Team New Zealand's return to sailing.
"They are in many ways a business, it's a workplace," Robertson said. "They have certainly been looking for people to understand, under the conditions they work, it's not being on a boat for a casual day out. It's actually their business, their job, to test.
"I'm aware they were very keen to do that and I'm sure they wouldn't have gone out if they didn't have permission. MBIE must have worked that through with them. They're the ones that make the calls around those issues."
Susan Sawbridge, Manager of New Zealand Major Events, said in a statement that MBIE did not provide Team NZ any exemptions or approval to sail.
"Emirates Team New Zealand got in touch with MBIE regarding their operations under Alert Level 3. We provided some advice to ETNZ who made their own determination about whether they could operate safely and in accordance with the hygiene measures," Sawbridge said.
"It was made clear to ETNZ that, as they see themselves as a business and testing as a business activity, there is nothing stopping their activity so long as they follow WorkSafe guidance on how to operate.
"If the proposed testing is recreational, the Health Order does not allow water-based activities involving sailing boats to take place for recreational purposes.
"Either way, it is over to ETNZ to make the call. WorkSafe has overall responsibility to make sure that businesses comply with the requirements of Alert Level 3."
Other America's Cup syndicates American Magic, Ineos Team UK and Luna Rossa are unable to test their boats due to ongoing lockdowns in their respective countries, leaving Team New Zealand with a competitive advantage.
While Robertson sidestepped Team New Zealand's return to on-water training, he pumped the brakes on the possibility of granting any imminent exemptions for overseas teams being allowed to enter the country to prepare for Auckland's World Series event in December.
New York Yacht Club's American Magic will be the first foreign boat to arrive in Auckland next month and their Kiwi skipper, Dean Barker, will follow in mid-June. Barker is hopeful team members can join him by the end of July or August in order to start their testing.
Robertson was, however, non-committal on when non-New Zealand crew members would be permitted entry.
"It's early days and I don't have a definitive answer on that," Robertson said. "It's the nature of sport and business that there are a lot of people whose jobs are dictated to by being able to come to New Zealand or go to another country.
"We're in a period right now where we have very strict rules on that. Everybody hopes we can move to a time where that gets loosened and people are able to do the kind of thing you're describing there.
"I absolutely get the ambition, and know they'll be champing at the bit to get here. We just have to get ourselves through to level 2, get ourselves out the other end, and then we'll be in a position to do that.
"If things go well, later in the year we'll definitely be in that position."
Despite the disruption to all teams, the halt on construction of bases and ongoing travel uncertainty fuelling fears a postponement may be required, Robertson is hopeful the America's Cup will proceed as scheduled.
"Getting into next year we're all going to be wanting things to look forward to; to bring the country together, to get the economy pumping. The America's Cup can help fulfill a lot of those things so we've all got our fingers crossed we're going to be able to get to that point."
At the time of publication Team New Zealand did not respond to a Herald request for comment.