Is New Zealand trying to take crew jobs after banning foreign cruise ship workers?

Feb 04, 2021

The fate of the crew on board Ponant cruise ship Le Laperouse, who are from several different countries, remains highly uncertain after New Zealand immigration authorities have denied them entry visas. Le Laperouse was scheduled to start the first of seven planned cruises from Auckland on February 8th, after receiving permission from New Zealand Ministry of Health to operate within NZ waters, for Kiwis only. The problem arose a week ago when the ship arrived off the coast of New Zealand and the Immigration NZ denied visas to 61 of 90 crew members, as they were not classified as “essential crew” working in the ship hotel departments.

The long journey of Ponant’s cruise ship Le Laperouse with full crew capacity, started a month ago when the vessel departed from Jakarta to New Zealand on a 3,600 nautical miles long journey to reach Auckland. Le Laperouse was scheduled to start cruises from Auckland organized by the New Zealand tour operator Wild Earth Travel, who chartered the ship.

As the local media reports, immigration authorities denied crew members visas, most of them from Indonesia and the Philippines working in the hotel department, on the grounds that they are non-essential for operating cruises. However since the ship needed to start voyages with guests in a reduced capacity, these crews are needed in order to serve passengers and perform their regular duties. So in this case the rule of the only essential crew sailing on a ship with guests doesn’t apply. It is not physically possible and it doesn't make sense, for example, the captain or the chief engineer to cook and serve meals to the passengers while steering the ship.

Ponant is well known to the New Zealand market with regular sailings in the past seven years, therefore the company is familiar with the rules and regulations in this country. Ponant said that the crew manifest and all necessary applications were sent to the New Zealand authorities on January 8th, as is customary and as has always been done in the past. On 27 January the company was advised that visa applications for the hotel department officers and crew of Le Laperouse were not considered critical to the ship’s entry to NZ and the applications were declined.

So what's behind the misinterpretation of the term “essential crew” by the New Zealand Immigration and the Ministry of Health and Ponant Cruises itself? Is this just an administration error which the cruise operator and the crew will bear the consequences and financial losses? The answers to these questions we might never know. 

What comes as a surprise are the shocking reactions and the possible “solutions to the problem” by the Maritime Union of New Zealand (MUNZ), The Merchant Service Guild (MSG), as well as other union leaders in this country.

Craig Harrison MUNZ assistant secretary applauded the government’s ban saying that the cruise ship jobs should have been reserved for “young New Zealanders who are struggling to get positions.” He urged the Ponant to enlist the union to act essentially as a recruitment agency and find local staff to replace the 61 foreign crew members.

The NZ Merchant Service Guild Industrial Union of Workers (MSG) made a proposal that the entire crew of Le Lapérouse, including the 29 essential crew who were approved for visas, should be replaced by New Zealanders. In an interwar MSG vice-president Ian McLeod told Radio NZ the ship’s “non-resident crew can stay on board for a couple of weeks to train New Zealanders,” and then return home. All ships should be “using New Zealand people with New Zealand crews,” Ian McLeod concluded.

Is New Zealand so desperate to take these 61 jobs from the crew of the developing countries and give them to their citizens? The crew who desperately need these jobs to feed their families are prevented from earning a living solely because of their nationality.

Trade Unions have a right to fight for their workers’ rights but this is not the way to do it. Migrant workers are not responsible for unemployment, which has soared in New Zealand as in every country, amid the Covid-19 pandemic and the worst economic crisis.

Earlier this week, News Zealand news outlet “Stuff” made an interview with Ponant’s Asia Pacific chair, Sarina Bratton, who said that the cruise line was trying to hire an extra 20 Kiwis to meet Immigration requirements, but most of those with maritime experience were already working on superyachts for the America’s Cup. Bratton said Ponant was still talking with the Immigration authorities about getting visas for 41 crew members, however, if they are refused the whole cruise season will be cancelled.

Photo Credit: NIKO VINCENT