A luxury cruise ship whose crew members were refused entry to New Zealand has returned to New Caledonia to refuel. Less than six days before scheduled sailings, 700 Kiwis are waiting to see if their tickets will be honoured.
The French flagged vessel, Le Lapérouse was refused entry to New Zealand waters on Friday after 61 out of the 90 foreign cruise workers were denied visas ahead of a season of planned domestic-only sailings.
"Le Lapérouse received approval late yesterday to proceed into Noumea this morning for refuelling," said Sarina Bratton, the Chairman for cruise company Ponant's Asia Pacific operations.
Since Friday the ship's operator Ponant said that it had been in discussions with Immigration New Zealand to find a solution to the impasse and plead the case for exemptions for the rest of the crew and hotel staff.
"Communications from New Zealand's Immigration Department today will determine what next steps, if any, are available to salvage our planned and approved operation in NZ this season."
On Friday Peter Elms, INZ national manager for Border told the Herald that "the 61 individuals who were declined are primarily employed to provide passenger services during the course of operating a cruise service (such as bar and restaurant staff, a masseuse, a hairdresser and housekeepers) and are not considered to be essential in the operation of the vessel."
Moreover that these skills were deemed "readily obtainable" in New Zealand, and it was their opinion that hotel staff should not have begun sailing for Auckland before applications had been assessed.
Sarina Bratton told RNZ that it was not unusual to for visas to be processed en route and that it was unlikely to find sufficient crew within New Zealand who were trained to the specific safety demands of the vessel.
"We've spoken to the Immigration Department about the lack of available people who have sufficient safety training certification in New Zealand," said Bratton.
Ponant says conversations with relevant New Zealand authorities are ongoing and that no sailings had been cancelled yet.
Minister for Immigration Kris Faafoi said he sympathised with those who had bought one of the seven scheduled New Zealand cruises or were relying on the custom from these trips.
"The new Zealand firm that has contracted the ship, I understand has begun marketing and selling cruises before the process has played out."
Faafoi said this had been "unwise".
Michael Corbett a spokesperson for Ponant's operations in Australasia said it was too early to say what changes would be made to the itineraries.
"Should the 8 February  voyage have to be cancelled then refunds will apply," he said.
Passengers have paid around $8000 per person for a berth on the luxury Le Lapérouse yacht.
Up to 100 passengers at a time Viva Expeditions Limited had estimated the value of the season at over $6m.
The operators urged INZ to review their decision, to avoid further disruption to the planned expeditions and "bring much needed benefit to the NZ travel industry and economy generally."