The New Zealand National Party – the country’s official Parliamentary opposition – has hit out strongly at the NZ Government over its refusal to grant entry visas to a number of crew members aboard the French-owned Le Lapérouse cruise ship.
Ponant, the Marseille-based company that operates the ship, has subsequently cancelled its 2021 cruise season in waters in and around New Zealand.
The Nationals have labelled the situation a ‘border bungle’ and a ‘blow to tourism’. At a time when the country’s tourism industry is crying out for help due to the Covid-19 restrictions on travel, the industry had been ‘kneecapped’ by the Government’s actions.
A huge blow to an industry already on its knees
“The cancellation of these cruises is a huge blow to an industry already on its knees and to the 650 Kiwis who had [passenger] bookings,” opposition Tourism and Economic Development spokesperson, Todd McClay, said.
“The Government should be doing everything it can to help the tourism sector, but Tourism Minister Stuart Nash and Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi have let them down badly.”
He added: “Low-risk, high-reward ventures like this should be encouraged to aid our economic recovery. Instead, the Government is sending a message that New Zealand is closed for business.”
Health and Immigration staff not working together
Meanwhile, opposition Immigration spokesperson, Erica Stanford, said it was extremely disappointing that the Immigration Minister would not direct his officials to grant visas.
“Putting aside the fact [that] Ponant set sail while reasonably expecting its visa applications would be approved, the minister’s inability to be flexible, and for health and immigration officials not to work together, is a big concern.
“Immigration NZ has allowed nannies working for movie stars to enter New Zealand, but not hospitality workers who hold specialised maritime training and safety certifications.”
New Zealand Cruise Association says it’s ‘devastated’
Adding its voice to the disapproval is the New Zealand Cruise Association. Its CEO, Kevin O’Sullivan, said the association was ‘devastated’ when Ponant was forced to cancel a season of seven fully-booked expedition voyages aboard Le Lapérouse because 61 crew members were denied visas.
“Ponant was granted permission to operate by the Ministry of Health, in consultation with other departments, in late December 2020 – only to be denied entry by Immigration New Zealand at the last moment,” O’Sullivan said.
“Many once-flourishing Kiwi companies countrywide dependent on the cruise industry are now even more concerned for their livelihoods. Le Lapérouse would have safely brought more than NZ$6-million into New Zealand’s economy.”