New Zealand 'missing out on millions' by banning wealthy superyacht owners from entering

Crews are allowed in - but the owners are still banned.
Crews are allowed in - but the owners are still banned. Photo credit: Getty

A superyacht agent is worried the economy will miss out on millions of dollars if overseas owners are banned from touring New Zealand.

Superyacht crews are allowed into the country on essential visas on the condition the owner spends $50,000 on repairs - but the owners themselves are still barred unless they are permanent residents or citizens.

Duthie Lidgard, the managing director of Superyacht Support Ltd, says New Zealand will miss out on millions if the rules aren't bent.

He told Newshub two superyachts and three commercial boats have come to New Zealand in the past six weeks since new Government requirements, and about 30 superyachts are trying to get in for refit and repairs - but there's not enough room.

As of Sunday, the travel time from the crews' country of origin to New Zealand will be counted as COVID-19 isolation - so if a journey took 13 days, crew would only need to isolate on their vessel for a further day - not including the 48 hours they would need to prove they are negative for the virus.

But there's not enough approved space for the yachts to dock in New Zealand - which means the revenue from the refits is in jeopardy.

"The normal first port of arrival berths are not yet approved by the Ministry of Health, so we are sat in limbo with allowing maximum boats to enter because there's nowhere to put them," said Lidgard. 

"We're pushing to allow them to anchor so when they arrive they can anchor in quarantine berths - the issue is the Ministry can't monitor them because they're not on land, but we're saying that's safer because they can't have people coming in and checking [on crew]." 

Even if the yachts can get in, the fact their owners are still barred means the country is missing out on some serious spending, says Lidgard. 

"Once you start getting up over 60-metre superyachts, we're in the millions as standard spend... an 80-metre [superyacht] we have coming in had allocated just over $10 million for their complete New Zealand stay, and they're only here six months."

Lidgard says the wealthy yacht owners are "extremely frustrated" by the border laws.

"When you tell someone who usually isn't used to hearing no, saying 'no it can't happen' - they don't like that".

He says they're wealthy enough to not pose a risk to the country - they could be tested before departure, fly in on a private jet, be tested again and then isolate on their private yachts, or an exclusive lodge where the only access is by helicopter.

"It's not buying their way in - once they've done their isolation, they're going to go around, they're going to spend money."

Peter Busfield, the executive director of New Zealand Marine Industry Association, says if it's done right it could be a game-changer for the economy.

"This is a major business activity for the New Zealand marine industry," he told Newshub.

"There's real opportunity with proper health control to allow this export business to float to our shores."

He says the business could provide much-needed jobs for Kiwis - but the Government needs to make a decision soon. 

"They have to get to New Zealand by December because the South Pacific sea is basically closed to these pleasure boats because of the hurricane season.

"We've got a little bit of an opportunity in the next few months to have more boats in New Zealand for repairs and refits to provide employment for New Zealanders, but we need a decision very shortly to allow these owners to join their vessels."

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health told Newshub vessels may be allowed in if the Director-General of Health approves it for "compelling humanitarian reasons".

"The bar to qualify for a humanitarian exemption is necessarily high, to avoid creating an unwanted 'back door' into New Zealand," they said.

"Financial loss alone is unlikely to suffice."