COVID Stranded Sailors Update

You may remember that I have recently been rattling some cages to try and get some solutions for the sailors who are currently stuck in both New Zealand, the Pacific, and people overseas who are separated from their boat homes.

Sailors in New Zealand

We started off appealing to the Minister of Immigration for some clarity on the situation of the sailors in New Zealand.

This appeal along with some help from other people generated quite a bit of media coverage and we were eventually advised that the sailors stuck in New Zealand would be able to apply for an extension to their visitors visas and that boats stuck in NZ would get an extension to their TIE (duty free entry). This does require quite a bit of hassle and expense to gather together things like police reports, and medical certificates, but it was a solution none the less.

However we hadn’t made much progress on the other matters. Until now.

Sailors Stuck Overseas – but their Boats and or Partners are in NZ

Sailors stuck overseas and unable to return to New Zealand to come back to their boats and sometimes their partners have been stuck here alone too. Currently only New Zealand citizens are allowed in to the country and they have to go in to a managed isolation facility on arrival for 14 days.

Many of the sailors have written to the Minister of Immigration asking for an exemption to be able to come in, but they have all been rejected. Sadly for them the upcoming election is not helping the situation, with the Government unwilling to make any decisions that might upset the voting public. The recent community outbreak of COVID in Auckland also didn’t help. I also read that there had been over 30,000 applications for an exemption to come in to the country. So I guess this decision probably comes down to a lack of isolation facilities and if you allow one group of people in, then it opens the floodgates for other people who are separated from their homes/families too, and our current facilities just wouldn’t be able to cope.

Sailors Stuck in the Pacific

Finally we have got some clarity on the situation of the sailors stuck in the Pacific. But its not easy…

The Pacific Cyclone season runs from around November – April each year. The Ocean heats up and can cause devastating cyclones which wreak havoc on Pacific communities should they make landfall. The general rule of thumb for sailors is to avoid the Pacific at this time of the year so many of them head South to safe refuges such as New Zealand or Australia. While they are here they usually take advantage of our world class marine facilities, doing a haulout, perhaps replacing sails, rigging and travelling around the country.

These sailors are coming from relatively safe places, and spending at least a week if not more at sea during their passage. They are low risk in terms of bringing the virus to New Zealand.

Canterbury Regional Harbourmaster Jim Dilley says “Additionally there is the issue for Pacific Islands to be able to manage the volume of vessels and people should the vessels not be able to clear the cyclone area. This can and will put a strain on the Pacific Islands capability to deal with any adverse weather or health event.

As a responsible country, which is key in supporting the Pacific Islands, we should be looking to assist with lessening the burden on them and providing safety for pleasure vessels.

In terms of ability to facilitate the recreational craft we have space in our region as do other regions and we would welcome the maritime service related work. This sits alongside my statutory role of ensuring maritime safety.”

So I contacted the Ministry of Health to see what the current guidelines are and what could be done to help these people.

They replied as follows:

Dear Viki,

For a bit of insight into our processes-

Applications for vessel exemption into New Zealand (while the border is closed) is presented to the Director-General of Health to grant permission to each vessel. Each application is includes rigorous consultation with New Zealand Customs Service, Immigration New Zealand, Ministry of Health, Maritime New Zealand and Ministry of Primary Industries and each case is carefully consider. 

Applications are guided by the Covid-19 Public Health Maritime Border Order. The purpose of this order is to: prevent, and limit the risk of, an outbreak, or the spread, of COVID-19. COVID-19 Public Health Response (Alert Levels 3 and 2) Order 2020

Part 2 of the order states that foreign ships are not permitted to arrive in New Zealand. However, ships may be exempt from this  if there is a compelling need for the ship to arrive in New Zealand for:

(A) for reprovisioning or refuelling, or both; or 
(B) for the purpose of delivering the ship to a business, including for the purpose of repairing or refitting the ship; and 
(ii) the Director-General has granted the ship permission to arrive in New Zealand: 
(C) a ship that has been granted permission to arrive in New Zealand by the Director-General (after consulting any relevant agencies) for humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs. 
For clarity, humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs would be unlikely to include situations relating solely to financial loss, or to vessels travelling primarily for pleasure or convenience such as tourists or ‘wintering over’. People in vessels travelling to New Zealand to ‘winter over’ (e.g. to avoid hurricane/cyclone season in the Pacific) may have other genuine humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs for coming, which would need to be demonstrated in order for these vessels to qualify for an exemption. 

The decision to exclude ‘wintering over’ was reached by a range of agencies include New Zealand Customs Service, Immigration New Zealand, Ministry of Health, Maritime New Zealand and Ministry of Primary Industries under the guidance of the Maritime Border Order. 

So I went back to them to let them know that technically the sailors are going to be “summering over” as the last time I checked the period November – April is actually summer time in the South Pacific… and I asked about the processing time. Which they have replied to say would be around 15 – 20 days.

So if you are a sailor stuck in the Pacific and want to come to New Zealand here is how to go about applying to come to New Zealand via yacht. There are lots of conditions and restrictions and you can read them all in detail here:

https://www.health.govt.nz/our-work/diseases-and-conditions/covid-19-novel-coronavirus/covid-19-information-specific-audiences/covid-19-resources-border-sector/covid-19-maritime-sector

 The key points to note are:

Vessels may be exempt if there is a compelling need for the vessel to arrive in New Zealand for:

  • reprovisioning and/or refuelling OR 
  • the purpose of delivering the vessel to a business which includes for the purpose of repairing or refitting the vessel AND 
  • the Director-General has granted the vessel permission to arrive in New Zealand.

A vessel may also be exempt if the Director-General has granted permission for the vessel to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs.

I don’t know why cyclone refuge isn’t a compelling enough reason to be able to come in to the country – but there may be other factors at play here that we haven’t considered. Perhaps giving a ‘cyclone refuge’ exclusion opens the doors for a different group of people to apply to come in, perhaps by allowing entry to sailors NZ will be inundated with other people with really compelling needs to come here – such as all the families that are currently separated, perhaps they’re worried that people desperate to come in will buy a boat and start sailing here instead of coming through the proper channels, perhaps they want to have some discretion on the applications that come through, perhaps they need to demonstrate to the NZ public that only people with a desperate need are coming in – who knows?

The upcoming election isn’t helping either. The Government will be very reluctant to do anything that would not appeal to the voting public. Allowing a group of foreign sailors an open invitation in to the country may not be something that will appeal to your average New Zealander.

The fact is that there is now a pathway, but it involves having to go through a difficult application process. You need to explain to the officials why they should let you come in to the country, and demonstrate that you won’t be bringing the virus with you. You need to put in an application and jump through their hoops.

So what might be a humanitarian or compelling need? Here are some things to consider putting in your application.

  • Why do you want to come to New Zealand?
  • Why can’t you stay where you are?
  • Why can’t you sail home? What are the issues with this?
  • What is the state of the healthcare system in the Pacific country you are based in – how would they cope if they had a COVID outbreak and what extra pressure would sailors put on their healthcare system if you were forced to stay?
  • Is the place you are located dangerous during cyclone season? Are you in a marina or in an anchorage? Why can’t you stay where you are? Would you have any safe refuge if a cyclone did come through? Where would you go? What would likely happen to your boat should you get hit? How would that impact the local community and the environment? How would you fix the boat if it was repairable?
  • Are sailors in the Pacific having any other adverse impacts on the Pacific communities you are currently based in? Would it be beneficial for the Pacific community for you to come to NZ?
  • What is your immigration/visa status at present?
  • Do you have any New Zealanders on your crew?
  • What your insurance policy says about you staying in the Pacific during this period.
  • Are you going to be delivering your boat to a business for the purpose of repairs/refitting? (This is one of the exemptions) who will do the work? How much will you spend? Could you get the company to write a supporting letter to go with your application?
  • What will you do when you get here? How long are you wanting to stay? Are you in good health, good character and financial position and not likely to put any burden on NZ’s health/social systems? Will you spend money touring around the country, volunteering in the Americas Cup etc?
  • How you will self isolate on your boat – roughly how long you would take to sail to NZ? What would you do when you got here to ensure that you isolated as per the requirements? What would you do if someone got sick on the way over? (There is actually a whole form you need to complete with all this kind of information on there).
  • What measures you’d take to ensure that you don’t inadvertently bring the virus to NZ? COVID tests before departing, on arrival etc?
  • What other options do you have? Can you fly home from where you are currently? What would you do with your boat? Is your boat your only home? If you flew home how would you get back to your boat?
  • Do you need to deliver your boat to NZ so it can be safe so you can fly home to visit sick family?
  • Is the boat coming to NZ to be sold?
  • Is the boat seaworthy, well equipped, are the crew all experienced and able to make the dangerous passage to get here without likely needing any assistance from the Rescue Coordination Centre?
  • Time limits – when you’d need your application to be done by so you can safely leave the country before November?
  • What would happen to you if your application is rejected?
  • Put yourself in the shoes of the person reading your application – why should NZ allow you to come here? How can you demonstrate that you won’t bring any risk to New Zealand and how is NZ and the Pacific going to benefit from you coming in to the country?

Given that the application forms are quite long, and the processing time is 15-20 days, I’d recommend that you get your applications in as soon as possible.

This latest press release from NZ Marine shows that some vessels are applying and being approved.

Jim Dilley the Harbourmaster here in Christchurch is very happy to help support your application if required. We have a lovely marina here and marine facilities available too. If you would like his help let me know and I can give you his contact details.

You might like to also copy in:

John Martin – Sail South Pacific who has also been advocating for sailors to come to NZ. john@sailsouthpacific.com

John Hembrow – Down Under Rally – if you are considering going to Australia instead. John has been working really hard to advocate on behalf of sailors trying to get in to Australia: downunderrally@gmail.com

Let me know how you get on! I will do anything I can to assist.

Cheers

Viki

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