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New Zealand urged to do more for seafarers seeking repatriation

Tight quarantine rules make it almost impossible for seafarers working abroad to repatriate

New Zealand’s pandemic restrictions have exemptions for foreign crew looking to repatriate or join ships. But these cannot be used by seafarers wishing to return to New Zealand

NEW Zealand has been accused of failing to properly implement International Maritime Organization resolutions on the repatriation of seafarers due to the country’s strict quarantine rules.

It borders have been largely closed to foreign travellers since the start of the pandemic.

Citizens wishing to return to the country from overseas are required to undertake a one-week compulsory stay at a Managed Isolation and Quarantine facility.

High demand for the limited means they are issued through a lottery system and must be confirmed within a 48-hour window.

New Zealand adopted IMO IMO Resolution MSC.473(ES.2) and designated seafarers as key workers in an effort to facilitate safe embarking and disembarking of crew.

The country’s Public Health Response (Maritime Border) order, issued last year, was meant to contain the spread of the virus while also “enabling the safe transfer of crew”.

But the legislation does not give New Zealand seafarers a guaranteed placement in an isolation centre when seeking to be repatriated when signing off from a vessel at a foreign port.

Moreover, exemptions in the Maritime Border order that give priority access to foreign seafarers who arrive in the country to join a vessel, or to be repatriated once signed, but New Zealand seafarers are precluded from using this ‘maritime allocation’ corridor when repatriating from overseas.

The regulation has led to a situation where hundreds of foreign seafarers had been able to enter and exit New Zealand to join and depart vessels, while only three New Zealand seafarers had been able to sign off in the country, according to master mariner Kevin Judkins and Panteion University assistant professor of public international law Sofia Galani,

“By requiring New Zealand seafarers to enter a lottery for a  place in the MIQ queue like other travellers who wish to enter the country, New Zealand has essentially failed to properly implement IMO Resolution MSC.473 (ES.2),” Dr Galani and Capt Judkins wrote in a blog.

“Furthermore, the vagaries of the shipping industry further disadvantage New Zealand seafarers compared to shore-based New Zealand nationals who wish to enter the country: poor quality internet onboard vessels causes the MIQ site to time out; seafarers often do not know which port or which date they are due to pay off; crew managers do not issue flight tickets until the day before a seafarer is due off the vessel or rig, meaning that it is impossible to confirm a booked MIQ spot within the required 48-hour window.”

The result was that New Zealand seafarers abroad were unable to return home, while those in New Zealand were unable to take up posts for fear of not being able to repatriate at the end of the voyage or contract.

“The New Zealand government is now fully aware of the impact of Order 2020 on New Zealand seafarers and has been repeatedly urged to amend Order 2020 in order to enshrine the rights of New Zealand seafarers who work on foreign flag vessels,” they said.

“Unfortunately, it has not been positive towards any immediate changes and continues to knowingly discriminate against and disadvantage its own nationals. Once again, the New Zealand government is urged to reconsider its approach and review its legislation and practices in order to rectify this unintended but very problematic legal error that has left hundreds of New Zealand seafarers stranded at sea.”

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