A top-luxury cruise ship that sailed from Singapore to New Zealand to finally restart operations was stuck 300 mi (500 km) out at sea due to a visa controversy.
Ponant's 188-passenger ship, Le Laperouse, was scheduled to restart voyages in New Zealand and granted (by the country’s Ministry of Health) conditional approval for shipping of New Zealanders only, starting February 8.
However, on Friday, January 29, Immigration New Zealand denied the ship entry because not all of its crew had obtained visas to enter in advance. As a result, Le Laperouse was stuck in open seas off NZ's coast.
Ponant had applied for visas for the ship's 90 crew in advance. But Immigration New Zealand granted visas to just 29 crew it deemed “essential for the operation of the ship to travel to New Zealand.” Those who were deemed nonessential to the mechanical operation (like hairdressers, masseuses, bartenders) were not granted visas.
MS Le Laperouse had been chartered by the NZ-based tour company Wild Earth Travel for roundtrips out of Auckland but the fate of the sailings is now in limbo. ~700 New Zealanders were booked on the vessel for the coming weeks.
After immigration officials denied border exemptions, the ship is now heading for Noumea (Grande Terre island, New Caledonia). Le Laperouse will dock and wait in Noumea while the ship charterer makes a decision on the way forward.