Concern grows for stranded yachts in the Pacific as cyclone season approaches
UPDATE – 28th August 2020
With just 10 weeks to go before the official start of cyclone season, November 1st, and no cyclone safe havens being made available, such as those in Australia and New Zealand, the situation facing the owners and crews aboard internationally flagged cruising yachts and pleasure vessels that are currently located in the SW pacific is now very much a serious concern.
Despite the continued efforts of the Ocean Cruising Club, the Down Under Rally and other individuals and organisations the Down Under Rally is disappointed to advise that to date no solution has been found.
Below is an announcement by the Ocean Cruising Club that was published yesterday that sheds light on just how much effort has been made by several organisations and individuals to advocate for those affected which sadly to date has not resulted in a solution.
NO CLEAR SOLUTION YET FOR CYCLONE REFUGE IN AUSTRALIA OR NEW ZEALAND
The OCC’s intense lobbying has resulted in engagement with elected representatives in both NZ and Australia who are advocating for support. The OCC remains hopeful that the political attention will result in a more direct solution(s), however with the cyclone season commencing 1 November cruising yacht crews currently within the cyclone zone would be prudent to give further consideration to if there is any option for a Plan B, not focussed on Australia or New Zealand.
Consequently, as of today, it is with great frustration that the OCC and its partners are only in a position to provide the following updates re NZ and Australia.
The border remains closed to all but New Zealanders, for others an exemption must be granted by NZ Health, then a visa obtained. Exemptions for delivery to a business (e.g. refit) and compelling need are possible. Yesterday, New Zealand Health amended its COVID website to include an application form for a maritime exemption under section 10 (f) of the COVID-19 Public Health Response (Maritime Border) Order 2020: “the Director-General of Health grants permission for the ship to enter for humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs”. However, the website states:
“For clarity, humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs would be unlikely to include situations relating solely to financial loss, or to vessels travelling primarily for pleasure or convenience such as tourists or ‘wintering over’. People in vessels travelling to New Zealand to ‘winter over’ (e.g. to avoid hurricane/cyclone season in the Pacific) may have other genuine humanitarian reasons or other compelling needs for coming, which would need to be demonstrated in order for these vessels to qualify for an exemption.”
NZ health officials stated by email today: “This means that if your members are seeking to apply for an exemption to enter New Zealand, their applications would likely need to demonstrate other genuine humanitarian or compelling needs for coming to New Zealand other than to avoid the cyclone season in the Pacific.”
Given this the Ocean Cruising Club is greatly concerned that at this stage New Zealand is not prepared to provide family, couple or single handed sailors on small yachts refuge from the South Pacific Cyclone season. Cyclone refuge should be a compelling reason enough. The OCC has written to the Health Minster two weeks ago, the Prime Minister yesterday, with an update today.
Although it does not seem to be a solution for cyclone refuge, to apply for an exemption, applicants should send the completed application form and self-isolation checklist to firstname.lastname@example.org. The forms and information on the process are at: www.health.govt.nz. Destination NZ Rally / Sail South Pacific currently has 7 applications in process under the delivery to business/refit criteria Section 10(e) , and OCC is aware of at least 6 applications under the “compelling” criteria Section 10(f) which have been made but not decided.
Sail South Pacific has a track record of helping yachts with passage planning and NZ formalities. Yachts entering New Zealand should consider joining Destination NZ coastalandoffshorecruising.com
In the event that there is a solution, Destination NZ, Bay of Islands Marina and Marsden Cove have been developing strategies to accommodate quarantine aboard with COVID safe, contactless support.
Thanks to John Martin of Sail South Pacific/Destination NZ for ongoing work for cruising yachts and input to this update. OCC will update as soon as we have any further information.
The border remains closed to all but Australians, for others an exemption must be granted by Australian Border Force, then a visa obtained. Despite an encouraging letter from Australian Border Force on 26 June (in reply to letters the OCC wrote to government Ministers in April), all boats in the OCC pilot applying under the criteria “compelling or compassionate request to travel to Australia” were refused an exemption to the current border closure. We immediately wrote to the Australian Border Force.
Feedback we have received indicates that this avenue for an exemption is still an option, but that the individual applications did not contain sufficient evidence as to why no other options were available.
We will provide an update over the next few days as to what additional information may assist applications under the “compelling and compassionate” category. The advocacy through political engagement at senior levels may provide a more direct solution but at this stage there is no indication of timeframe or likelihood of success.
Further, the OCC feels obliged to report that ABF’s letter made it clear that:
“Any non-exempt traveller arriving in Australia who has not been granted exemption for entry through Commissioner Discretion will be considered an illegal entry. If the traveller is the holder of a valid visa, consideration will be given for the cancellation of the visa held. Where it is determined that there are grounds for the cancellation of the visa, the traveller will be detained and removed from Australia as soon as practical. Any visa cancellation is immediately followed by a three year exclusion period for travel to Australia.”
At present if a travel exemption is granted, Australia also requires all travellers arriving from overseas locations to undertake mandatory quarantine in state-mandated accommodation (at their own expense) unless a specific exemption to quarantine has been granted by the state or territory health authority. Regarding quarantine aboard and time at sea being considered, the OCC has had some correspondence with the Queensland Chief Health Officer and Maritime Services Queensland regarding the applications for a quarantine exemption (available on their website ). The Down Under Rally can also assist with information in this regard.
One glimmer of hope is that an Australian on their Australian yacht in Fiji has one US citizen crew who has been granted an exemption and visa today!
Any crew that wishes to make application for an Australian exemption via covid19.homeaffairs.gov.au” and should fully outline their compelling need, lack of other safe alternatives. Note: When drafting such a case for compelling need the applicant should assume the officer reading the application know nothing of yachts, cruising etc.
The OCC will provide more information learned from recent applications soonest.
The OCC (with Down Under Rally) is continuing to lobby and will write to Ministers outlining our concerns.
In the event that there is a solution, Bundaberg Port Marina and the Down Under Dash (Down Under Rally) have been developing strategies to accommodate quarantine aboard with COVID safe, contactless support.
Thanks to John Hembrow of Down Under Rally for ongoing work for cruising yachts and input to this update. OCC will update as soon as we have any further information.
Guy Chester (OCC Roving Rear Commodore)
Fiona Jones (OCC Indo-Pacific Coordinator)