26 Sep 2020

'A serious matter': Germans detained in Bay of Islands after defying border controls

7:21 pm on 26 September 2020

Three German yachtsmen have been detained after arriving in the Bay of Islands, in breach of New Zealand's Covid-19 border restrictions.

Opua, in the Bay of Islands.

The yacht's crew have all tested negative for Covid-19 since arriving in Opua. Photo: 123RF

Despite being denied permission to enter the country, the trio's yacht, Anita, arrived in Opua yesterday afternoon.

Immigration officials are now arranging for the three people to be flown home.

Immigration NZ's border and visa operations manager Peter Elms said the crew requested a border exemption from the Ministry of Health, which was refused.

"New Zealand's border restrictions are in place for a very good reason - to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of New Zealand's population.

"The action by these individuals to knowingly travel here without approval demonstrates a blatant disregard for New Zealand's border restrictions."

Attempting to breach the country's border controls was a serious matter, Elms said.

He added that being refused entry may also have long-term consequences for the sailors - their visa waiver status for New Zealand may be suspended and it may affect their ability to travel to other countries.

A Ministry of Health spokesperson said in a statement the crew of the vessel have all been tested for Covid-19 and those tests were negative. They have also been isolated on their vessel for more than 14 days.

The crew had applied for an exemption, after they had already sailed for New Zealand.

It was being sought on two grounds, humanitarian and bringing the vessel to New Zealand for repair.

Their application was declined because the Director-General of Health was not convinced the boat had a compelling need to come into the country.

The Ministry has previously provided guidance to potential applicants that 'humanitarian reasons' would be unlikely to include situations such as financial loss, or to vessels travelling mainly for pleasure or convenience such as tourists or 'wintering over' to avoid the hurricane/cyclone season in the Pacific.

This position has been widely communicated to the maritime community, including those in the South Pacific, the spokesperson said.

"While there were aspects of the case that were unfortunate, these did not rise to the threshold of a compelling humanitarian need. As much as our country is known for its hospitality, New Zealand cannot become a maritime Covid-19 safe haven for everyone in unfortunate circumstances."

Foreign yachties seeking refuge in New Zealand from seasonal Pacific cyclones have been campaigning for the move for months.

A week ago the UK based Ocean Cruising Club received official notice that foreign yachts waiting to leave the Pacific will not be allowed in to New Zealand, and must now make alternative arrangements.

The club had been liaising with New Zealand immigration and maritime agencies to find a way that would allow up to 300 yachts to sail here on the seasonal cruising route.

The ocean cruising club was told that maritime border restrictions applied under the current Covid-19 public health response.

The letter from the Director General of Health said limited exemptions existed on the ban on foreign ships coming to New Zealand, including cargo and fishing vessels.

Permission could also be granted for ships to enter, if there was a compelling need such as refits, repairs or humanitarian reasons.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs