German crew who entered NZ unlawfully still waiting for flight home

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 29 Sep 2020, 8:23PM
The 16-metre yacht Anita arriving in Opua on Friday afternoon escorted by New Zealand Customs patrol vessel Hawk V after the German crew arrived in the country unlawfully. Photo / Supplied
The 16-metre yacht Anita arriving in Opua on Friday afternoon escorted by New Zealand Customs patrol vessel Hawk V after the German crew arrived in the country unlawfully. Photo / Supplied

German crew who entered NZ unlawfully still waiting for flight home

Author
NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Tue, 29 Sep 2020, 8:23PM

The crew of a German yacht who sailed into New Zealand breaking the country's Covid-19 border restrictions are still being held in police custody while they continue to wait for a flight home.

A Warrant of Commitment hearing took place today with the court granting INZ permission to detain the crew until Friday.

The crew, aged in their late twenties to early thirties, were intercepted by NZ Customs on Friday afternoon as they headed into Opua.

NZ Customs had been alerted that the boat was still planning to breach New Zealand's border restrictions after being denied exemption Visas by the Ministry of Health.

Immigration NZ national manager border and visa operations Peter Elms said the German nationals were taken to Auckland where they are being detained in police custody.

Arrangements are underway to send them home but the limited flights out of New Zealand due to Covid-19 meant it could take a few days for the trio to depart, he said.

The 16-metre vessel called Anita was moved on Friday from the Quarantine Dock to another berth at the Opua Marina on Friday where it remains while an investigation is carried out by NZ Customs.

A New Zealand Customs spokesperson said the vessel was liable for seizure and duty liability under the Customs and Excise Act and was being held in Customs' control pending further investigation and evaluation. The timeframe for the investigation was unknown at this stage.

The arrival of the yacht caused a stir in the sleepy Bay of Islands' town.

Residents in homes overlooking the bay spotted the yacht coming in on Friday afternoon with a yellow flag on its mast indicating it was from overseas.

An Opua resident, who did not want to be named, was at the marina when the yacht, called Anita, arrived about 3pm escorted by the Customs NZ patrol vessel Hawk V.

The crew was making no secret of the yacht's arrival flying its yellow maritime flag, she said. The flag was used to indicate that a vessel was free of quarantinable disease and request boarding and inspection.

There was a large crowd gathered at the marina including customs officers, three police cars and a pop-up Covid testing station.

"There were a lot of police and customs down at the marina.. there were definitely a lot more people there than there usually are."

The resident said when the borders were opened Opua received a lot of yachties from overseas as it was their first stop, but this year there had been very few boats arriving especially displaying the yellow flag. They would usually clear customs and then head down towards Whangarei and further south.

Another local said it all happened quite quickly and they did not see the three crew on the yacht at the marina.

While no charges have been laid against the crew, Immigration NZ has said the refusal of entry to New Zealand could have long-term consequences. Their visa waiver status could be suspended and it could affect their ability to travel to other countries.

The Ministry of Health confirmed at the weekend that all three had returned negative Covid-19 tests and had been isolating on the boat for more than 14 days.

Under the current rules foreign fishing or cargo ships are allowed to enter New Zealand. Any other vessels must be granted an exemption by the director-general of health. The reason needed to be compelling such as refuelling or re supplying or delivering to a business for repairing or refitting. Exemptions could also be granted for humanitarian reasons, but this was unlikely to be granted solely for financial loss or for vessels wanting to dock up during the Pacific's cyclone season.