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GJW Direct 2020

New Zealand refuses cyclone season refuge for yachts

by Ocean Cruising Club 22 Sep 01:06 BST
Terrwyn in New Zealand © Bill Norrie

Yesterday, the Ocean Cruising Club received a formal rejection by New Zealand for yachts in the South Pacific cyclone zone seeking refuge.

Two weeks ago, when asked about providing cyclone season refuge for cruising yachts in COVID limbo in the South Pacific, the Prime Minister said on live television that she would speak with the Health Minister about taking into account the seasonal conditions (TV3 AM).

The OCC understood that Kiwi’s would “Be Kind”, however despite the Prime Minister’s remarks, the Director General for Health wrote yesterday: “The legal basis for the current restrictions at the Maritime Border is the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order (No 2) (the Order). The foundational rule of the Order is a ban on all foreign ships from arriving in New Zealand, unless explicitly exempt or granted permission by the Director-General of Health. There are a number of limited exemptions in place, such as for cargo vessels to unload and load cargo, fishing vessels to unload catch and resupply, Defence and State vessels to enter and depart New Zealand.”

“As the Director-General of Health, I can also grant permission for ships to enter if there is a compelling need for the ship to arrive in New Zealand for reprovisioning or refuelling , carrying out a refit, refurbishment or repair to a ship or for humanitarian reasons Having received advice from Ministry of Health officials, I have determined that a potential future cyclone does not provide sufficient basis to warrant an exemption from the Order. While I will determine whether permission is granted for a ship to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis, my assessment is that the vessels in question are not facing a cyclone at present, but rather the prospect of a potential cyclone or cyclones in future. Therefore, there is no compelling need for the ships in question to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons.”

“I will still determine whether there is a compelling reason for a ship to arrive in New Zealandfor humanitarian reasons on a case-by-case basis, should a cyclone arise in anyone location.”

“I appreciate that my decision will come as a disappointment to you and your members. However, I hope that clarity on my decision will allow your members to make immediate alternative arrangements, enabling them all to secure safe harbour (e.g. in their home countries) in a timely fashion.”

Unfortunately, despite many explanatory letters and emails, health officials do not appreciate most yachts cannot sail to safe harbour in their own country, nor understand yachts need to be safely out of the cyclone zone, not at sea and seeking shelter in New Zealand when one occurs!

The Ocean Cruising Club is concerned that yachts in Fiji and French Polynesia and other Pacific islands must now risk tropical cyclones in locations which do not have the capacity for safe mooring or dry storage. Prudent and safe navigation is to move small yachts out of the cyclone zone before the cyclone season occurs, this takes many weeks of sailing. These yachts are the home of families and couples.

The OCC has been working with Sail South Pacific and the Marina Operators Association and has been liaising with immigration and maritime agencies. COVID safe protocols were developed and have been put into place to minimise the risk to New Zealand.

The OCC asks the New Zealand government to reconsider its decision and “Be Kind”.