New Zealand tourism operators 'disappointed' cruise ships failing to meet biofouling standards

Tourism operators are annoyed to see cruise ships failing to meet the standard of cleanliness required to enter their ports.

Only days ago, Horizon Tours was fully booked for this Wednesday's arrival of cruise ship passengers.

But once those on the Queen Elizabeth discovered they would no longer be docking in Dunedin, every one of the company's bookings was cancelled.

According to cruise operator Cunard, the ship's schedule had to be rearranged to make time for the hull to be cleaned again, in order to meet New Zealand's strict biosecurity rules.

The ship and nearly 2000 passengers, currently off Australia's east coast, will still dock in Wellington, Lyttelton, Tauranga and the Bay of Islands, but will not pass through Fiordland or stop in Dunedin.

Four cruise ships have been found in breach of biofoul standards since December, due to algae and barnacles on their hulls.

Kylie Ruwhiu-Karawana, chairperson for industry group Dunedin Host and owner of Horizon Tours, said the restrictions were fair.

It was on cruise operators to make sure their ship met the mark, she said.

"When we do lose a cruise ship, we've put a lot of staff on, or we've put a lot of emphasis into ensuring our experiences and our buses are all up to scratch," she said.

"And when they can't come in, it's not just disappointing, it affects our bottom line."

The season was set to bring 111 cruise ships to Dunedin - nearly back to pre-Covid levels of up to 130, she said.

Despite this, she said, the restrictions were necessary and fair to protect the natural environment.

"People love coming to New Zealand because of what we offer, and a lot of what we offer is based around the wildlife, the foreshore, the sea," Ruwhiu-Karawana said.

"So it's not that I'm against what we've done, absolutely not, we've done the right thing - I just wish the ships had paid a little bit more attention."

Dunedin Mayor Jules Radich said the benefits cruise ships brought to the city were appreciated, but the environment had to come first.

"It's one of many - one of 100 ships this year, so 1 percent," Radich said.

"It's not everything, but it's all relative, and we like to make the most of all opportunities and we've certainly missed having them."

Cawthron biosecurity manager Patrick Cahill said the introduction of marine pests and diseases by ship, known as biofouling, could seriously affect the ocean environment.

"Some of these species, they're invasive and they're good at spreading because they form dense monocultures, and out-compete other similar native species, so they can change and modify the environment."

Fiordland Marine Guardians chairperson Dr Rebecca McLeod said it only took one ship.

She said Fiordland currently had only one invasive species - an intrusive seaweed, which the government had spent millions trying to eradicate.

"We know how hard it is to get rid of something once it's arrived," she said. "The ecological risk is just way too high."

It was good to see Biosecurity New Zealand taking such a firm approach, she said.

"There's a balance that needs to be struck in terms of keeping these places accessible so people can visit and enjoy them, because they're spectacular areas, but at the same time not doing harm while they're there."

With another 28 cruises scheduled to visit Dunedin before the end of the month, businesses and conservationists alike would be hoping for clean hulls all round.