Seafarers find they are caught in trouble when they have to reserve space in a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility and want a change.
They are subject to a Managed Isolation Allocation System like most people crossing the New Zealand border. Currently booked through June.
But Nathan Schumacher and Geiri Petursson say seafarers’ jobs, where they often have poor internet access, and overloaded systems mean it’s almost “impossible” to book a place.
The pair want an allocation set in managed isolation for seafarers and feel like no one is advocating for them.
“That’s the only way,” said Petursson.
They also pointed out that New Zealand has signed an International Maritime Organization (IMO) protocol, which defines seafarers as essential workers.
However, this is not reflected in Government policy and seafarers are treated like everyone else. Meanwhile airline crew are excluded for the same reason.
Petursson, who was on a ship off the coast of Argentina, said gaining space was “impossible” because the system was not designed for people working in their positions.
Petursson left New Zealand on November 19 last year, and said he would normally work two months before returning home for the same length of time.
Instead, she has struck a deal with her employer to work for about six and a half months because of the pandemic. He works 12 hours per day, seven days a week.
“It’s testing to do that for six months.”
He has a visa to enter Argentina when his work ends, where he has to wait until he finds a place in managed isolation.
Petursson’s wife and child are in New Zealand and he thinks they want to see him in less than seven months.
“We are often on a very, very bad internet connection … we can’t see how we can get the vouchers,” he said.
Petursson said also having an Argentine visa put him in a privileged position, but was concerned about New Zealanders who could land, and was only granted a 24-hour transit visa before being expected to fly home.
He has a colleague who arrived in Myanmar at the weekend, where the coup started last week.
“The situation is quite scary,” he said. “Four days ago… he was still being told [by the Government] the situation does not meet the exclusion criteria of the voucher system.
“I don’t know what has to happen to meet those criteria.”
Schumacher’s situation was different. Offshore geotechnical engineers are still in New Zealand and completely skipping work as Australia recently suspended quarantine-free travel from New Zealand.
“It was a blessing in disguise for me because I would be in the same situation,” said Schumacher.
But if another job comes up soon, he will most likely leave: “Because I have to pay the mortgage.”
Schumacher says he speaks for people abroad. He’s set up an email account for stranded sailors to contact him, and in the past 24 hours some 50 Kiwis working overseas have found out about their struggles to reserve MIQ places.
“It shouldn’t be part of their job that they know that if they are gone for two months, it will actually be six to eight months before they go home.”
Schumacher said New Zealand could also violate the Maritime Labor Convention (MLC) 2006, which allows the unhindered return of seafarers to their country of residence.
MBIE, which keeps the isolation under control, and the Maritime Union of New Zealand were contacted for comment.
– Michael Neilson’s additional reporting