Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi scolds French cruise ship Le Lapérouse for setting sail for New Zealand without visas

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi is warning tour and event organisers to sort their border requirements before trying to enter New Zealand after a cruise ship failed to secure visas for all its crew.

Officials have been communicating with operators of Le Lapérouse, a 264 passenger luxury French cruise ship currently less than 300 miles away from Auckland after it sailed from Singapore. The ship is now being held at sea pending further decision.

According to reports, the ship was chartered by Christchurch-based Wild Earth Travel, with director Aaron Russ planning seven expeditions around New Zealand, the first beginning on February 8 from Auckland.

Faafoi told reporters on Friday that the cruise ship was given permission by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield, under a Maritime Border Order, to travel to New Zealand.

But that approval was on the condition that Le Lapérouse obtained the necessary visas from Immigration New Zealand (INZ). He said that was made clear to the ship's agents at least twice.

Faafoi said Immigration NZ received a request for border exceptions for 90 foreign crew members on board the vessel 48 hours before it began its journey to New Zealand.

Visas were granted to 29 of the crew, who were considered essential for the operation of the ship, to travel to New Zealand for the purpose of delivering it to a business and for refurbishment.

Immigration declined visas for the other 61 crew because were not considered essential for the purpose of the ship's travel to New Zealand.

Le Lapérouse.
Le Lapérouse. Photo credit: Cruise Mapper

"The ship should have waited for decisions on visas to be completed to ensure those on board complied with New Zealand immigration requirements when the ship entered our border," Faafoi said.

Faafoi said he would "charitably characterise" the cruise ship's failure to obtain the necessary visas - some for crew such as such as bar and restaurant staff, a masseuse, a hairdresser and housekeepers - as "unwise".

"I want to reiterate the Prime Minister's clear message last week that where people are organising events, such as concerts or tours, they need to have all the necessary paperwork and COVID compliance requirements sorted before they make bookings, sell tickets, or try to bring workers into New Zealand."

Wild Earth manager Aaron Russ told Newshub he got approval in December for the ship to arrive in New Zealand

"All those crew were notified to the government on the 18th of December."

He says there will be a large impact if the ship is not allowed to dock.

"For my business it's over $1.5mil of revenue if the ship isn't able to arrive in New Zealand. The Ministers worried about hospitality jobs on board, the flow on effects of the ship not being able to come into New Zealand will be sure to result in impacting more than 60 jobs."

Russ believes everything that could have been done has been done. 

"I believe we've done everything we can with the information we had available." 

Last week Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern warned promoters not to sell tickets before booking spots in managed isolation for international acts, as The Wiggles faced the prospect of disappointing thousands of Kiwi fans.

Live Nation, the company promoting the Australian children's entertainment group, started selling tickets in November to more than 20 concerts around New Zealand, with shows expected to start in mid-March this year.

But at the time Live Nation started selling the tickets, the group had not yet secured a border exemption to enter New Zealand, nor vouchers to stay at a managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) facility.

The group were granted border exemptions on December 24 under the 'other critical worker' category, a month after sales had begun. But they needed to get around the hurdle of not having secured a space in MIQ.

Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.
Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi. Photo credit: Newshub

Ardern said a "practical solution" would be sought by officials, and the Government has since confirmed that The Wiggles have been granted spots in MIQ for their shows.

"The border is closed for a very good reason," Faafoi said.

"Where businesses ignore those border requirements or try to find ways to get around them, they put other New Zealand businesses and communities at risk.

"We have processes for granting exceptions to allow entry under certain criteria, but people need to ensure that applications they make for a border entry exception meet the criteria.

"The Government absolutely supports Kiwi businesses' enterprise and resilience, and we have been taking measures and implementing initiatives, including changes to various visa settings, to help that, but everyone has had to accept that COVID brings complications and processes that didn't exist before the pandemic.

"It's critical that we all follow those processes, give adequate time to ensure the requirements of those processes are met, and all play our part to make sure New Zealand avoids the worst effects of this pandemic."