Hundreds of boaties who were stranded in the Pacific submitted humanitarian requests to be allowed to take refuge in New Zealand from the dangerous hurricane season.
Usually hundreds of small yachts sail here from the South Pacific every year to wait for the typhoon season, from September to May.
But this year, with the border closed because of a pandemic, they were stranded everywhere.
Guy Chester is moored on the island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia, and is increasingly anxious, when windows are closed for cruises to travel here – he says they only have a few more weeks, and still need planning and application time.
He has appealed to the New Zealand government since April to make the process of freeing the border for those who use small cruise ships in the Pacific to come to New Zealand before the cyclone season begins.
There is only room for very few cruise ships to live in protected areas on the Islands, he said, and described it as “the Russian Roulette game”, with each new cyclone risking cruise ships and the lives of people on board.
“The entire fleet is very worried and afraid of being trapped in the South Pacific, a hurricane can have 70, 90, 120, 150 wind knots – that is 200 to 300 kilometers of wind per hour.”
Chester is the Rear Commodore of the Ocean Cruising Club, which has members from many countries, mostly from Australia and Europe.
He said its members did not have rich superyachts – the length of the ship ranged from 7 to 20 meters, and was unable to ride the typhoon at sea.
He listed around 200 crew members who were eager to come to New Zealand – around 1,000 people, but thought there were at least 100 crew members above that.
Gillian Hall is moored at Marquesas in French Polynesia as well, with her husband and 17-year-old son.
California visas expire soon, so they hope to leave soon, but cannot reach most destinations before the typhoon is due – and they are worried.
“There is no very good choice, we can go to Hawaii, but now it is hurricane season there,” he said.
Fiji has a long application process, costs more than $ 1,000 just to implement, and they also risk sailing to the typhoon if they are headed in that direction. And Australia is 4000 kilometers away from New Zealand.
“Or we could just leave our home – that is definitely a possibility, but no one will do it, whether their home is on land or if their ship is their home.
“For us, we feel the situation is terrible.”
Hall said without a cruise they would lose their homes and effectively become refugees.
Chris Galbraith is chairman of the NZ Maritime Operations Association and general manager in the first place 70 percent of small yachts arrive, when they come to New Zealand – Marina Bay Islands. He has supported the application for Ocean Cruising Club.
He said the first arrival sites were well equipped to accept small cruise ships, and he was sure they could be monitored for safe quarantine on their own ships in the marina of New Zealand.
This situation is a humanitarian problem that the New Zealand government should not do – if it does then it will be a party to what happens next, Galbraith said.
“We all sincerely hope that the government will see that this is low risk, that we can manage the border situation well, and then we can bring these people in.”
He also pointed out that cruise ships bring in income for some coastal communities, and the country’s reputation can be seriously damaged if we don’t open borders for those who need “on time”.
“New Zealand has been seen as a safe place for cruise ships for a long time, this is a dream to enter this part of the world, and we are seen as a safe place to enter – it is a very important brand image, our sea trade sector.
A New Zealand spokesman for Maritime said the agency hoped the government would handle the issue ahead of the typhoon season.
“The essence of this work is to reduce the number of small crafts in the South Pacific during the typhoon season, thereby minimizing the need for search and rescue efforts in the region,” he said.
Chester said a clear application process must be made, but cruises will comply with quarantine rules.
“The criteria for ‘humanitarian and coercive needs’ must be set immediately, and there needs to be a policy decision that is a humanitarian need and is urgent for cruise ships to be able to seek protection in New Zealand from the southern Pacific hurricane season.”
The Ministry of Health is responsible for the process, and said they are “developing guidelines for the category of ‘humanitarian and other urgent needs’; this will be published on the website after completion.”
At present every foreign ship must submit an application to the Director General of Health for approval to come to New Zealand.
If that is given, those above must each apply for permission to immigrate New Zealand.