COVID-19: New Zealand cruise industry urges Government to 'stop mucking around' on maritime border re-opening

New Zealand's cruise ship industry is desperate to get back to business after two years of being at a standstill but there is frustration no clear timeline has been given to open up our maritime borders. 

Overseas cruise ships are still banned from entering the country with New Zealand's maritime borders closed but work is being done by the Ministry of Health and Maritime NZ on a re-opening date.

The cruise ship industry is back up and running around the world with more than 80 countries open to cruise ships.  

Australia welcomed its first cruise ship back since the beginning of the COVID pandemic on Monday a day after a ban on the ships was lifted.

New Zealand Cruise Association chief executive Kevin O’Sullivan told AM on Tuesday they have heard "very little" from the Government about when the re-opening date might be.

"I understand a decision has been made by Government ministers but we need an announcement and we need it really, really soon," he told AM. 

"Without that formal announcement from the Government we are finding cruise ships are unable to confirm and we are already losing more than 180 port bookings because of a lack of clarity."

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson told AM he disagreed with O'Sullivan saying a decision has not been made by the Government about when the maritime borders will re-open.

He said the reason the Government has not made a decision yet is not that Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is overseas but because they're awaiting final advice from health officials. 

O’Sullivan is attending an international cruise conference in Miami next week about the industry and he will be "standing up with a great deal of embarrassment and saying we are not open yet and we don't know when". 

He is urging the Government to stop "messing around" and make a formal and public decision on when the maritime borders will re-open. 

"The close-off date is around four months out but cruise lines have already cancelled, we've already lost cancellations during our winter cruise season and we have lost some of the port bookings in the summer season because of that lack of clarity," O'Sullivan told AM.

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson Photo credit: AM

Robertson said they hope to make an announcement in the next couple of weeks. 

"We are very well aware, particularly for New Zealand the cruise season is the summer season and we do want to give people plenty of notice and we expect to be able to say something in the next couple of weeks," he told AM.  

"We've tried to work very hard on behalf of New Zealand businesses, workers and households to make sure we do the right thing from a health and economic perspective and we are not far away from making that decision."

Robertson said that they are being careful with the decision as COVID spread quickly through cruise ships at the beginning of the pandemic.

"Different types of tourism have different impacts and we are all aware of the impacts those cruise ships had in the early stage of the pandemic, they were places where COVID-19 spread quickly even at the beginning," he told AM.

Robertson said when a decision is made people might be required to complete a negative COVID test before they step off their cruise ship and onto New Zealand soil.  

Watch the full interview with Kevin O’Sullivan above.