Entry denied: Cruise ship that hoped to restart New Zealand cruises is now stuck at sea
The cruise industry just can't seem to catch a break these days.
An upscale cruise vessel that sailed from Singapore to New Zealand this week to finally restart cruise operations is now stuck at sea due to a visa controversy.
The 188-passenger Ponant ship, Le Laperouse, had been scheduled to be one of the first cruise vessels to restart operations in New Zealand. The ship had been granted conditional approval to begin cruises out of New Zealand just for New Zealanders on Feb. 8 by the country's Ministry of Health.
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But on Friday, a second branch of the New Zealand government, its immigration service, denied the vessel entry to the country because not all of its crew had obtained visas to enter in advance.
As a result, the ship is now stuck in limbo in open waters off the coast of New Zealand.
Ponant had applied for visas for Le Laperouse's 90 crew members in advance. But New Zealand's immigration service, known as Immigration New Zealand, only granted visas to 29 of the crew members it deemed "essential for the operation of the ship to travel to New Zealand," New Zealand Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi was quoted as saying in the New Zealand Herald.
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Crew members who were deemed nonessential to the ship's mechanical operation such as hairdressers, bartenders and masseuses were not granted visas.
That means they shouldn't have come along on the voyage from Singapore to New Zealand.
Faafoi suggested the approval for the ship to cruise out of New Zealand was conditioned on the line getting visas approved for every crew member who came to New Zealand on the ship.
"I want to make it clear, our border is closed," Faafoi said. "That was made clear to the ship's agents at least twice."
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In a statement issued Friday, the New Zealand Cruise Association said it was "shocked and quite simply bewildered" by the immigration service's decision to block the ship from landing in New Zealand.
"At the extremely last minute, Immigration New Zealand has now denied entry for some of the ship’s crew who they have deemed to be nonessential. [The association] believes that all the ship’s crew are essential to its operation and they cannot be replaced by New Zealanders in such a short time," the association said.
The association added that it was "a case of one ministry giving and another taking away."
Government departments "must begin to talk to each other, not take separate action which once again greatly harms the tourism industry," the association said.
Le Laperouse had been chartered by a local New Zealand tour company, Wild Earth Travel, to operate expedition-style voyages out of Auckland. The fate of the trips is now in limbo.
Around 700 New Zealanders had been scheduled to sail on the ship in the coming weeks, according to the New Zealand Cruise Association.
The visa troubles for Ponant are just the latest evidence of how difficult it could be for cruise lines to resume sailings in the coming months after being shut down for nearly a year.
While most lines around the world have canceled all sailings into May, many are hoping to resume at least a few voyages in the late spring or summer.
But a patchwork of travel restrictions in many of the countries where cruise ships operate is likely to make it difficult for voyages in some regions to restart too quickly.
In North America, for instance, cruises to Alaska that are scheduled to begin in May will require approval not just from U.S. authorities but also Canadian authorities, as most Alaska voyages must include a stop in Canada for regulatory reasons.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has yet to issue approval for any cruise line to operate in U.S. waters and is unlikely to do so for at least several months. The agency in October issued a “framework for conditional sailing” order that creates a series of hurdles cruise lines must overcome before restarting passenger operations in U.S. waters.
The hurdles include operating successful test cruises without paying passengers and applying for a conditional sailing certificate -- steps that could take several months.
"This is a significant and devastating blow to the New Zealand tourism industry and to all those businesses that were relying on this one cruise ship to bring them some small glimmer of hope in the resurgence of regional cruise tourism," said the statement from the New Zealand Cruise Association.
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