While New Zealand’s sea borders are currently closed to most foreign Flagged vessels, a number of pleasure craft and super yachts in the Pacific are hoping to enter New Zealand in time for the America’s Cup.
At present, only yachts that have a compelling need to be delivered to a business in New Zealand, including for the purpose of substantial repairs or a refit, may be granted an exemption to enter New Zealand waters with their crew. Conditions are strict and decisions are made on a case by case basis.
In this article, we review the Covid-19 related restrictions and the requirements to enter New Zealand if you own, operate or work on an international yacht.
The government has adopted a “Covid-19 Public Heath Reponses (Maritime Border) Order 2020” (Maritime Border Order) to rule on crew changes and the safe movement of cargo and vessels to and from New Zealand.
Under the Maritime Border Order, foreign-flagged yachts are not permitted to arrive in New Zealand territorial waters unless they have an exemption. An exemption can be sought from the Director-General of Health (Ministry of Health) if:
- The yacht has a compelling need to arrive in New Zealand for the purpose of:
- Re-provisioning and/or refueling;
- Delivering the yacht to a business; or
- Carrying out a refit, refurbishment of or a repair to the yacht that is more than minor.
b. The yacht has a compelling need to arrive in New Zealand for humanitarian reasons.
Based on the above, yachts travelling to New Zealand primarily for leisure purposes are not permitted to enter New Zealand waters. The Ministry of Health also advised that yachts intending to “winter over” (for instance to avoid the hurricane/cyclone season in the Pacific) are unlikely to meet the condition of humanitarian reasons.
Refit, refurbishment and repairs are the main reasons currently considered for an exemption. The Director-General will take into account:
- The nature and type of work to be undertaken on the yacht;
- The monetary value of the work being undertaken;
- The need to support the economic recovery of marine-related industries in New Zealand; and
- Any other matter considered relevant.
The above may include information regarding: the size of the yacht, the need for the proposed works, the urgency of the works, whether the work can reasonably be undertaken in the yacht’s Flag State, current location or other location, and the time required to complete the work.
An application will have to provide written evidence of a contract with one or more New Zealand based-companies (subject to the yacht being granted an exemption). This should include a schedule of intended works/equipment purchased for repair or refitting of the yacht and the estimated cost of repairs. We understand the Ministry of Health will require a minimum value of the work of NZ$50,000.
Any exemption to enter New Zealand waters must be sought before departing for New Zealand and must be obtained before the yacht arrives in New Zealand, noting it can take up to 20 days for a decision to be issued.
A yacht that has been authorised to enter New Zealand waters may be entered on a Temporary Import Entry in which Customs charges and GST are deferred for two years.
Once the permission for an exemption to arrive in New Zealand (with or without conditions) has been granted to the yacht, any persons onboard must obtain Immigration New Zealand approval.
Only New Zealand citizens and holders of a resident visa are authorised to enter the country. Anyone else must be coming to New Zealand for a “critical purpose” and request prior approval from Immigration.
Persons who will be deemed to have a “critical purpose” include:
- Critical workers (provided that the request is sought by a New Zealand employer or a supporting agency or immigration professionals);
- Replacement cargo ship crew; and
- A vessel’s crew arriving by sea (subject to the yacht having been granted an exemption).
Yacht owners, authorised agents and employers of the crew are the only ones who can submit a request for foreign crew to travel to New Zealand on approved yachts.
Crew must be essential for the operation of the yacht to travel to New Zealand. Other types of crew and passengers are not permitted. To date, we understand that super yacht owners have not been allowed to sail with the crew to New Zealand. Decisions are likely to be made on a case by case basis, depending on the usual operations of the yacht.
Crew arriving by sea are required to have isolated on the yacht (or in a managed facility, at their cost) for at least 14 days before they can go on shore. The period of 14 days may include the journey time under certain conditions. Covid-19 tests will have to be carried out in any case. Isolation at anchorage will not be allowed, noting dedicated berths are allocated for this purpose.
Once the isolation period is complete and clearance has been provided by a medical officer of health or health protection officer, the yacht will be free to travel on to the pre-approved and pre-arranged repair or refit provider(s) and the crew will be allowed to stay in New Zealand for the duration of their visas.
The existing exemption for yachts is the result of strong lobbying from the marine industry. The NZ Marine Industry Association in particular continues to engage in discussions with the government.
The conditions that need to be satisfied in order to be granted an exemption to enter New Zealand waters are limited and will be strictly applied. In all cases, the yacht will not be permitted to arrive unless every person on board also satisfies immigration requirements.
At this time, we understand that up to twelve super yachts have been granted an exemption on the basis of two to three months of work booked in a shipyard, often representing several million New Zealand dollars.
We recommend that any yacht seeking to come in to New Zealand:
- Defines what substantial work would require the work of a shipyard in New Zealand;
- Contacts a shipyard for this purpose; and
- Engages as soon as possible in discussions with the Ministries of Health and Immigration to let them know its intentions and prepare the relevant documents.
If you need assistance with the above or require further details or key contacts, please let us know. We have a dedicated team for this purpose.
 The Maritime Border Order came into force on 30 June 2020 and was amended and replaced on 6 September 2020.
 Except for the right of “innocent passage” or vessels in distress.