The Le Laperouse cruises are operated by Ponant Cruises. Photo / Provided
A cruise ship veering off New Zealand is now stuck off the coast of New Caledonia, running low on fuel with a significant storm approaching and no permission to dock.
Le Laperouse has an economic exemption for coming to New Zealand for cruise season, but was denied entry last week after Immigration denied 61 of its 90 crew visas because they were not considered essential workers.
The government says the ship left Jakarta before its documents were processed, but the ship’s owner believed that and the crew was given permission to come.
Ponant Cruises Asia Pacific boss Sarina Bratton told Checkpoint that the ship had traveled 3,600 nautical miles to get to New Zealand.
“We’re trying to get into Noumea, it’s a difficult situation …, and we’re still very short on fuel.
“We have spoken with [New Zealand] Department of Immigration regarding the lack of people who have adequate safety training certification in New Zealand.
“We have been in touch with several recruitment agencies, delivery agencies, superyachts, trying to identify how many, if any, New Zealanders could be available for work,” he said.
“We have been operating in New Zealand on a seasonal basis for the last seven years. And our crew composition has not changed. This is the same as for the last seven years. Our application through the Ministry of Health clearly speaks of crew size.
“It also provides us with full national breakdowns for all the crew on board.
“We were not aware of the requirements to have an approved visa before leaving for New Zealand.
“Our New Zealand port agents who handle all our affairs and handle all commercial vessels entering and exiting New Zealand, through Covid-19 are also not used to it.
“So, it wasn’t until we got closer… we were told they would approve the technical crew, but they would not approve the hotel crew.”
Bratton said he thought there had been a “disconnect” between government departments about the application.
He said the denial had cost the shipping company an estimated $ 1.6 million, and could be more expensive.
“We have a letter of approval from the Ministry of Health and it says that crew members need a proper visa before arriving in New Zealand. It doesn’t say before you go anywhere and come to New Zealand.”
He believes every crew member on the ship is an important worker.
“Each crew member has specific responsibilities for safety management.
“So whoever comes, they need to be trained on what their responsibilities are. We told the Immigration Department that we would try to find and maybe we could get around 20 New Zealand crew, if we were lucky.
“We have posted an ad, in the newspapers over the weekend in New Zealand. We have spoken to many recruitment agencies, and we were not very lucky.
“I have notified New Zealand Immigration about the situation, we have been in contact over the weekend. And I am just waiting to hear back to see if they have the flexibility for the ship to arrive and operate as normal.”
He said he was concerned about the safety of the crew of the Le Laperouse because of low fuel and nowhere to dock.
“Now this morning we are informed that a typhoon is starting towards New Caledonia and Vanuatu.
“Whenever there is bad weather you can stay away from it, but we are in a very low fuel situation. Hopefully it doesn’t go that way.”
Immigration New Zealand said on Monday it had no further updates regarding Le Laperouse, other than to confirm that they continue to engage with Ponant to discuss their options.
Maritime graduate, Air NZ cabin crew could just fill the role – Maritime Union
Maritime Union assistant secretary Craig Harrison told Checkpoint he was shocked by the news about the cruise ship.
“I think the company went to the stakeholders earlier in the year, and the industry, and told them they wanted to get off the ship. There could be some work being done to find workers to fill that void.
“For example masseurs, hairdressers, and catering crews… There are many young workers working part time and casual jobs like Interisland Ferry and Strait Shipping who are eager to get into this industry.
“And just think of the workers who have been stranded at Air New Zealand, if possible there is funding through Covid-19 and working with maritime schools to get some qualifications even those people try and fill this void on board.”
With sufficient notice, he said, such positions could have been filled on the ship by New Zealand staff.
“We are eager to promote young New Zealanders to the opportunity to be part of the solution.”
Harrison says the safety certifications required are the same qualifications required to work on the Cook Strait ferry.
“Catering staff, cooks and various crew have this qualification.
“Unless there’s something really special about the ship, which would take me by surprise, besides, you have engineers, officers and what we call deck crews.”
He said if Ponant had a direct approach to the maritime industry to help find crew members, the industry would be able to help.
“If you talk to maritime schools, you will find these young New Zealanders going through those schools now. They are struggling to get a position on the ship, and they have completed a lot of that basic course.”