The Le Laperouse has rerouted to New Caledonia after 61 of its 90 crew members had their visa applications declined.
Immigration NZ deemed only 29 of the crew essential for the ship’s operation and Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi made it clear the other staff members would be sent packing as soon as it docked in New Zealand.
“In one way shape or form they will either be not allowed to leave the ship and will be transported straight [home], or will be detained until they are able to leave New Zealand,” he said.
The ship is now on its way to New Caledonia to decide the best course of action.
“Immigration were quite threatening in terms of what would happen if they carried on to New Zealand and so they've chosen to abort coming here for the moment,” said New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive, Kevin O’Sullivan.
The cruise was granted a border exemption by the Ministry of Health late last year, but visas were only applied for in January.
Two days after the applications were sent off the ship set sail from Singapore to New Zealand.
Yesterday, Faafoi held a last-minute press conference to announce some of the ship’s crew didn’t have visas and would not be allowed into the country.
“It was made very clear that one of the key criteria for them was that everyone on board needed to have the requisite visas,” Faafoi.
At least two tourism operators had seven different trips planned to be hosted on the Le Laperouse once it was in New Zealand waters.
The New Zealand Cruise Association estimates around $6 million will be lost now that the ship has been forced to reroute.
“That part of the economy is not doing well… and is desperate for every possible dollar it can get,” said O’Sullivan.
Before the ship had even set sail for New Zealand it had hit troubled waters.
One of its conditions of entry was that it could only have up to 100 people on board. That’s despite the country being at Alert Level 1 with no restrictions on gatherings.
A Ministry of Health spokesperson told 1 NEWS the limit was put in place as it was the best way to manage the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak.
“We’ve all seen the significant outbreaks of Covid-19 on cruise ships which occurred around the world. The ease of transmission of Covid-19 on cruise ships means caution needs to be taken in allowing the recommencement of the industry,“ the spokesperson said.
The NZCA said those in the industry felt singled out by the restriction.
“It’s an arbitrary number. The Interislander Ferry has a lot more people on board than 100 on any day,” said O’Sullivan.
Around 700 New Zealanders had booked cruises on board the Le Laperouse over the coming months.
It’s not yet known how they will be compensated if the cruise company is unable to make crew changes or secure the 61 staff visas.