8 Jun 2020

Foreign ships exclusion indecision 'very frustrating' - Aimex Service Group

5:55 pm on 8 June 2020

A Nelson marine engineering and maintenance firm is facing the loss of almost half its workforce as it waits for the government to make a decision on allowing foreign ships into port.

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The Nelson port. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

The Aimex Service Group has been seeking an exemption to Covid-19 border restrictions to allow foreign vessels into port on a case by case basis, based on quarantine measures able to be put in place.

The group's general manager, Simon Lavery, said an American Samoan-flagged vessel, the Captain Vincent Gann, was due in Nelson for a $600,000 overhaul, but was not allowed in.

Four staff had already been laid off, and they were looking at having to cut 40 percent from the company's 100 staff, Lavery said.

He said none of the ministries they had approached could make a decision, and they were running out of time.

"It seems to be a little bit like pass-the-parcel in terms of who is going to make the decision, and we haven't been able to get a decision which is very frustrating."

Lavery said they have been working with four different ministries to progress the matter, and it was not yet clear which was able to make the decision.

"Basically, once the wage subsidy runs out we may not have any work.

"We've been at this for weeks, it's dragged and we need some urgency - we need a decision now."

The economic development minister Phil Twyford said the Ministry for Primary Industries was the lead agency on the matter and he would consider border exemptions for crew if MPI progressed the application.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford announcing the NZTA review recommendations 9 October 2019

Phil Twyford. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

But further issues related to crew exemptions needed to be addressed, which was why other agencies were involved.

A spokesperson from Twyford's office said the international logistics service provider TNL had applied to MPI on behalf of the Captain Vincent Gann.

While it was understood that Aimex had its own local workers, the vessel's crew would need Other Essential Workers exemptions if they were going to come into New Zealand aboard the ship.

Twyford said all applications for border exemptions for Other Essential Workers were considered on a case-by-case basis.

They had to demonstrate the role or job could not be done by a New Zealander, there was an urgent need for the workers, that they were critical to the response to Covid-19 or there would be "very significant economic benefits resulting from the exemption".

"I'm advised TNL International is going through the process of applying for a border exemption with the Ministry of Primary Industries, which is the lead agency for this sector.

"If and when that application is progressed, I will receive a briefing to consider border exemptions for the crew aboard this vessel," Twyford said.

Lavery said the contract to service the vessel was critically important to the company, but also the precedent it would set if it was not allowed in.

"It's not just about this single vessel. There's four vessels we have like this.

"There's millions of dollars of revenue at stake for our business, but this particular vessel has a value of about $600,000 to our business and if we can't get it, that's a real concern."

Lavery said failure to get the contract for the Captain Vincent Gann would reduce their leverage for gaining other similar contracts.

"That would mean we'd have to take a very hard look at our overhead costs, which is not something we want to do."

Lavery said a groundswell of support was building from companies such as Sealord, Talley's, top of the South Island iwi-owned incorporation Wakatu, Port Nelson and Westfleet.

"They have all submitted letters of support to us, and to the Minister because they appreciate how important marine engineering is to Nelson.

"They don't want to see staff lost, because you can't replace these people."