A French, luxury cruise liner stopped at the New Zealand border has cancelled its summer season.
After 61 crew were refused work visas on route to Auckland, on Monday the ship Le Lapérouse was forced to sail 1800km to New Caledonia to refuel. Now operator Ponant has decided to pull out from the planned New Zealand season, which it was given special Economic Exemption to operate last year.
"Ponant regretfully advises that our small expedition ship Le Lapérouse has been forced to cancel her season of seven fully booked expedition voyages in New Zealand for New Zealanders," said the cruise line.
On Friday Le Lapérouse was stopped outside of New Zealand's exclusive economic zone, with visa applications being refused for 61 of their 90 crew on board.
A spokesperson for INZ Border told the Herald the rejected visa applications were for hotel staff, including a masseuse and a hairdresser.
These were refused on the grounds that the skills needed were "readily obtainable" in New Zealand, and that the company should have sought New Zealanders to fill these jobs before applying for 'other critical worker' visas. This is something Ponant said it had considered but "lack of available people who have sufficient safety training certification" stopped the ship from hiring more Kiwis.
The cruise line said it had contracted 16 New Zealanders to work for the two-month season, among other nationalities.
Following this impasse, and having sailed over 8500 kilometers and undergone isolation and testing in line with the Ministry of Health issued approval, the cruise company has announced its decision to cancel this summer's season.
Over 650 New Zealanders were booked onto seven domestic-only itineraries.
"Guests are being contacted by their travel agents and individual arrangements being discussed with options of a cruise credit plus additional commercial gesture or a complete refund," said Sarina Bratton, Chair for Ponant Asia Pacific.
Staff for the aborted New Zealand season would continue their contracts for sailings in Australia in April.
The expeditions cruise company says it has "invested millions of dollars promoting New Zealand internationally, and operating in NZ seasonally for the past seven years."
Ponant intends to bring two expedition ships to New Zealand for the next summer season
"Unless there is a change of Government policy it will be very difficult for any company to manage the commercial and operational risks in NZ," said Bratton.
New Zealand Cruise Association Chief Executive, Kevin O'Sullivan said he was "sad" and "extremely disappointed" in this outcome.
The cancellation of these sailings not only undermined the last 6-months' work by NZCA to establish domestic only sailing, but years the association has spent building New Zealand as a cruise destination.
"We had hoped that Le Lapérouse was the start of something bigger, a chance to show cruising around New Zealand was both safe and secure."
O'Sullivan said that INZ's decision to refuse visas to hotel staff was "huge barrier" .
"These [roles] are highly specialised even though they have some relation to jobs on shore, and require maritime training."
He said that there was plenty of time to raise concerns about earlier during the whole of government approach, "not what we regard as the last moment to produce this significant barrier to bringing the cruise ship to New Zealand."
On Friday Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said that New Zealand takes border security "very seriously, given the threat of Covid-19."
"A message needs to be enforced that processes around the border are in place to keep us safe."
"The ship was given Ministry of Health clearance to bring the ship here for maintenance work here in New Zealand and to deliver the ship here for New Zealand business," he said.
"A key condition of that was that all crew had appropriate visas for the purpose of the journey."