Jobs at risk in Nelson with foreign ships unable to get repairs because of border restrictions

Foreign ships needing important repairs can't dock in Nelson because of current border restrictions, putting dozens of engineering jobs on the line.

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Foreign ships needing important repairs can’t dock there because of current border restrictions. Source: 1 NEWS

Aimex managing director Steve Sullivan says marine engineering in the region employs “around 500 direct staff”.

Forty per cent of the business' profits are made from international boats, including the American-registered vessel Captain Vincent Gann.

The vessel underwent a major refit in Nelson last year and Mr Sullivan says that translated to $6.5 million being spent in the local economy.

The 1800-tonne tuna fishing boat is now in desperate need of repairs.

Port agent for the owner of the vessel and TNL International director John Lowden says the problem lies with the gear box, “so if it’s not fixed shortly, it will probably create more issues with the whole gear box, if not a breakdown at sea”.

Since the vessel’s departure, it has fished out of American Samoa, the exception being one port call in Manta, Ecuador in July last year.

Since then it has only docked in Pago Pago, a territory that has reported no cases of Covid-19 and the borders are closed.

It will take more than 14 days to travel to New Zealand and Mr Sullivan says the crew are willing to isolate for a further 14 days “if need be when they arrive here”. 

They are also willing to undergo testing for the virus.

But that hasn't changed the view of immigration officials, denying the ship's request to get an exemption to dock in New Zealand.

Nelson MP Nick Smith is lobbying the Government to “work with the industry to provide practical solutions”.

“What we need is a case-by-case approach, where we look at each example, rather than just blocking the work and blocking the vessels coming in.”

Authorities have told the vessel to seek repairs in Hawaii instead, which Mr Sullivan says threatens “our future for the next five years or 10 years”.

Mr Smith believes there is also a “contradiction when the Government is providing exemptions for the film industry for a movie like Avatar, but not for a blue-collar industry that's so important to Nelson like marine engineering”.

Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway is asking for advice on the situation, but says the boat is not in distress and has no New Zealand crew onboard.

Immigration New Zealand told 1 NEWS in a written statement that the bar for an exemption to the border restrictions is set high to help stop the spread of Covid-19 and protect the health of people already in New Zealand. 

The request for Captain Vincent Gann to enter was made under humanitarian grounds but was declined as it did not meet the criteria.

Aimex has already laid off staff and says dozens more could be out of work if the policy doesn't change.