Foreign yachties say lives now at risk
Foreign yachties seeking refuge in New Zealand from seasonal Pacific cyclones are baffled by the response not to let them in.
The UK based Ocean Cruising Club yesterday received official notice that foreign yachts waiting to leave the Pacific will not be allowed in to New Zealand, and must now make immediate, alternative arrangements.
The club has been liaising with New Zealand immigration and maritime agencies to find a way that would allow up to 300 yachts to sail here on the seasonal cruising route.
Yachts traditionally headed south to New Zealand each summer. Many conducted refits at yards around the country, and cruised New Zealand's coastline, visiting towns and cities along the way.
The ocean cruising club was told that maritime border restrictions applied under the current COVID-19 public health response.
The club says lives and property are at risk, but the latest official response reveals a misunderstanding around the logistics of boat travel.
The letter from the Director General of Health says limited exemptions existed on the ban on foreign ships coming to New Zealand, including cargo and fishing vessels.
Permission could also be granted for ships to enter, if there is a compelling need such as refits, repairs or humanitarian reasons.
The letter says Ministry of Health advice had led the Director-General to determine that a potential future cyclone did not provide sufficient basis to warrant an exemption from the order.
"While I will determine whether permission is granted for a ship to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis, my assessment is the vessels in question are not facing a cyclone at present, but rather the prospect of a potential cyclone or cyclones in future.
"Therefore there is no compelling need for the ships in question to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons.
"I will still determine whether there is compelling reason for a ship to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis, should a cyclone arise in any one location."
The club's roving rear commodore Chester Guy told RNZ from Tahiti this morning that the correspondence received showed that New Zealand health officials might be "fantastic epidemiologists" who well understood the Coronavirus, but they appeared to have missed the point about needing to leave before a cyclone hits, and not during one.
"The compelling need is now, to get the yachts off the South Pacific cyclone zone," he says.
The letter says sailors will need to make immediate, alternative arrangements, enabling them to secure safe harbour, such as in their home countries, in a timely fashion.
Guy says it's not that simple and it leaves them with no option but to remain in the Pacific, which did not have the facilities to cope with hundreds of yachts and people exposed to severe storms.
"Unfortunately, despite many explanatory letters and emails, health officials do not appreciate most yachts cannot sail to safe harbour in their own countries. Nor do they understand yachts need to be safely out of the cyclone zone before the cyclone season occurs, and not at sea when one occurs."
He says the matter is now urgent, and the club is imploring the New Zealand government to reconsider.
Guy says New Zealand has proven capacity in marinas around the country to cope with the annual influx of foreign yachts. Quarantine and self-isolation protocols had also been set up and were now in place.
He acknowledges that part of the problem might be that visiting yachts could find themselves stuck in New Zealand for longer than intended, because of the pandemic.
"If they have to stay in New Zealand it's not an economic impediment - the yachts (owners) spend millions."
He says four superyachts had been approved entry to New Zealand, under the refit/refurbishment exemption. It required proof up-front from a shipyard it was sponsoring a vessel's entry for the work to be carried out.
"The Ocean Cruising Club's request is for New Zealand to accept that cyclone season refuge is a humanitarian or other compelling need."