28 Sep 2020

NZ rejecting Pacific yachts in cyclone season 'ludicrous' - Ocean Cruising Club boss

From Checkpoint, 5:45 pm on 28 September 2020

The actions of a German crew who have been detained after sailing across New Zealand's closed border are probably a sign of desperation, an ocean cruising club boss says, but he does not condone breaking maritime rules.

The three yachties onboard the Anita arrived in Opua in the Bay of Islands on 25 September, despite their border exemption application being denied.

Immigration NZ says the two men and a woman treated New Zealand's Covid-19 regulations with contempt and they will be flown back to Germany.

In exceptional circumstances the Director General of Health may grant foreign vessels permission to enter New Zealand, but they need to demonstrate a humanitarian reason or a compelling need for the ship to be delivered here for business.

The Ocean Cruising Clubs' roving rear commodore Guy Chester had tried unsuccessfully to get exemptions for hundreds of yachties in the South Pacific who are facing a fast-approaching cyclone season.

"I think it's a very sad situation," he told Checkpoint.

"The Ocean Cruising Club does not condone yachts entering a country or attempting to enter a country when the border is closed. But we are very concerned that we have yachts throughout the South Pacific that are in Covid limbo inadvertently. And they've got nowhere to go to get out of the cyclone season.

"Maybe Anita is a sign of the desperation that boats have, we hope no more do this, but we really hope that the New Zealand government recognises this is an urgent situation, the cyclone season is about to start, and we need to allow yachts to get out of the cyclone season, out of the cyclone zone and seek refuge.

"What we hope is that if anything good comes of this situation of one boat pushing the boundaries is, let's realise that this is a serious issue of the cyclone season, and the cyclones are coming and boats need to have safe refuge," Chester said.

"Boats cannot turn around [from the mid-Pacific], they can't sail home to Germany from French Polynesia.

"That would be sailing around Cape Horn. I'm sorry but that's not a response. There are some yachts that did have the ability to leave their boat in a marina or boat yard and fly home over the last few months. However, the marinas and the boat yards are now full.

"The issue is that there are more boats than there are facilities because normally they go to New Zealand and Australia for the cyclone season. It's just not practical to send boats home."

Chester's Ocean Cruising Club first wrote to the New Zealand government in April, he said.

"We knew this was going to be an issue because boats were already caught in the middle, knowing they'd have to go somewhere. We could have been working collaboratively with the New Zealand government since April, with the Australian government as well, since April to find a solution.

"We were told by letter the end of June that there would be an exemption process on a compelling and humanitarian need. We waited until the end of July for the forms and the availability to be filled out for that. We were patient about that. And then on the website it said cyclone refuge is not a compelling reason.

"So, we have been pushing and trying to get that recognised. We have developed quarantine aboard protocols which have proven to work in places like the Azores and Grenada, which have provided refuge and let boats go through or have cyclone refuge.

"Those protocols we've been working on with Whangārei Marina and Bay of Islands Marina. Now, it's ironic that we've been working with those marinas to develop those quarantine aboard protocols and they're going to be used for New Zealand yachts that arrive in New Zealand, but they're not good enough for foreign yachts to provide cyclone refuge."

"If a cyclone does occur, New Zealand is regularly providing aid to its Pacific Island nation neighbours. when a cyclone occurs.

"By leaving the yachts here, we're putting more pressure on the emergency services in these small island nations. That's not something we, or anybody wants to do and New Zealand should not condone. New Zealand should realise that leaving these boats in areas where there's potentially a cyclone is inappropriate. It's putting pressure on these small island nations that shouldn't have to put up with it.

"There are families with small kids onboard, this is their home. We shouldn't fixate on the insurance… these are people with their homes with smart families, couples who need somewhere to go. We're not pushing to go to New Zealand, because we want to see New Zealand as a soft touch, we're pushing because that is where boats normally go and New Zealand normally welcomes with open arms," Chester said.

"I don't want to be overdramatic about it. What I want to say is that we all know what happens when a cyclone hits yachts in an anchorage that is not a cyclone refuge.

"What we've been told by the Director General of Health, very upsettingly in the most recent letter, is that yachts can come when there's a cyclone.

"I'm sorry but I find that ludicrous to tell yachts that once there is a cyclone they can sell to New Zealand."