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Wiggles get into NZ but Ponant cruise ship hits visa storm

February 2, 2021 Headline News 2 Comments

A bid by luxury cruise operator Ponant to operate a cruise program from New Zealand has struck a sudden severe bureaucratic snag over visas, which has seen the ship Le Lapérouse turned away from New Zealand and forced to divert to New Caledonia, where it was reported last night to be low on fuel with a storm on the horizon.

Ponant’s attempt to recommence cruise operations exclusively in New Zealand waters for New Zealanders ran into sudden difficulties when most of the crew of the ship Le Lapérouse were denied New Zealand visas at the last minute, preventing the ship docking.

The ship had to sail to Noumea instead, with Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reporting last night that Le Lapérouse was “now stuck off the coast of New Caledonia, low on fuel with a significant storm approaching and no permission to dock”.

Ponant’s chairman Sarina Bratton, told New Zealand’s Checkpoint program yesterday the ship had travelled 3600 nautical miles to get to New Zealand.

“We are trying to get into Noumea, it’s been a difficult situation… and we’re still very low on fuel,” she said.

The Ponant initiative, a cruise program due to start this month, had been well received by the industry: Industry delight as Ponant gets green light for expeditions.

Ponant’s ship Le Lapérouse was granted an exemption to visit New Zealand – but the NZ government then insisted the crew all needed to get individual visas to cross New Zealand’s closed borders. The ship was denied permission to dock in New Zealand at the weekend and was forced to head for Noumea instead.

NZ Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said 61 crew denied visas included bar staff and a hairdresser. The other 29 who were granted visas were crew considered critical for operating the vessel.

More than 300 people have booked cruises on the ship over the next two months.

“We’ve been operating in New Zealand seasonally for the last seven years,” Bratton told Checkpoint.

“And our makeup of crew hasn’t changed. It’s been the same as it has for the past seven years.”

One solution for Ponant might be to disembark those crewmembers New Zealand considers “non-essential” in New Caledonia and hire New Zealanders instead – but time is tight.

Bratton said Ponant would try to identify some New Zealand citizens to fill the roles of those who were denied entry. The line had already contracted 14 New Zealand residents for roles aboard the ship, she said.

Launching Ponant’s New Zealand program in December, Bratton said: “Kiwi travel agents, tour operators, ground operators, airlines, port authorities, food and beverage suppliers, technical suppliers, fuel suppliers, service and waste suppliers all benefit from our small ship operation.

“This is an important step forward and it takes us closer to the time when borders re-open and cruising resumes in Australia – and to when we will be able to confirm the return of our luxury expedition small ships.”

In an eyebrow-raising touch, which many Kiwis have noticed, Aussie children’s entertainers The Wiggles were granted visas to enter New Zealand – presumably because they were considered essential.

Auckland travel agent Tanya Franklin told RNZ denying entry to Le Lapérouse would hurt port cities desperate for business. She said the ship’s so-called “non-essential” crew denied visas included bar and restaurant staff, a masseuse, a hairdresser and housekeepers – all of whom were essential to any luxury cruise. Any passenger paying for the cruise would expect those services, Franklin pointed out.

Written by Peter Needham

Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. gnits says:

    …what is wrong with new zealand… too down south?…

  2. Government policy-makers need to understand the travel industry in more depth and follow through on the effects of their decisions. When they take a shallow approach to the issues of the day it increases the uncertainty we are all living with now and effective management is much more difficult.

    Our sympathies are with Ponant in this case and with all travel companies – their massive contribution to economic wellbeing should be recognised and their existence safeguarded for the future.

    We hope for a quick response from the NZ government that will assist Le Laperouse and fix the situation before it becomes more difficult.

    Martin – Mosman Cruise Centre

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