Ponant cancels Le Lapérouse cruises in New Zealand after being declined visas for all crew

The company has been in a stoush with the New Zealand government.
The company has been in a stoush with the New Zealand government. Photo credit: Le Laperouse

The company behind the cruise ship Le Lapérouse which had intended to carry out seven fully booked 2021 cruises around Aotearoa has confirmed it has cancelled all of its expeditions.

In a statement, Ponant said it "advises that our small expedition ship Le Lapérouse has been forced to cancel her season of seven fully booked expedition voyages in New Zealand for New Zealanders". 

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

At a press conference on Friday, Faafoi said Le Lapérouse was given permission by Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield to travel to New Zealand - on the condition that Le Lapérouse obtained the necessary visas from Immigration New Zealand (INZ). 

Faafoi said that was made clear to the ship's agents at least twice.

"INZ has declined to approve visas for 61 of the ship's 90 crew. Visas were issued for 29 technical crew however INZ were not prepared to issue visas to the 61 hotel staff,"  Ponant said in a statement.

"The Ministry of Health issued an approval in mid December. The approval's conditions were to operate with a limit of 100 guests, within NZ waters, for Kiwis only.

"Le Lapérouse and her full complement of 90 crew were mobilised under strict COVID-19 isolation and multiple testing protocols and sailed from her anchorage off Jakarta on January 10 for New Zealand. This plan enabled the vessel to enter safely and place no pressure on the in-demand MIQ beds in Aotearoa."

Health officials were scheduled to test all crew upon arrival on January 30.  

Ponant said the company was advised on January 27, after travelling more than 3600 nautical miles, that visa applications for the hotel department officers and crew were not considered critical to the ship's entry to NZ and the applications were declined.

Ponant says it was told if the vessel entered our country's 200 mile exclusive economic zone then people could face imprisonment, including the ship's officers and company management.

The company said as the ship was low on fuel, the only safe option was to apply for entry to New Caledonia. This was granted and the ship arrived safely on Tuesday.

Ponant says the cost of Immigtration NZ's decision is huge 

  • It will disrupt the travel plans of more than 650 New Zealanders
  • Cause up to $6 million in direct economic loss to food, beverage, ground operator SMEs across the country supplying the vessel
  • Eliminate more income from the New Zealand travel agency community
  • Devastate the 16 Kiwis contracted to work onboard for two months, who will now lose their income.

The company says the decision puts into question the prospects of a successful return to New Zealand's cruise industry, which was worth hundreds of millions to the local economy.

"Ponant has invested millions of dollars promoting New Zealand internationally, and operating in NZ seasonally for the past seven years. We hope there is a quick review of the processes for expedition ships to operate in New Zealand and that the 2021-2022 season can be saved," the company says.

Faafoi has reiterated his message that businesses must ensure they comply with all the necessary New Zealand border entry requirements before they make commitments to ventures and customers.

"The Government expects that, and New Zealanders do too," Faafoi said.