Northland’s Opua has been the designated port of arrival for all small craft in New Zealand since 2020, when Covid-19 border controls restricted who can sail into the country.
All those sailing into Port Opua must complete 14 days’ self-isolation, including time at sea after departing land. They must also be well and return negative Covid-19 tests.
To date, no active cases have sailed into Opua.
But former Tai Tokerau MP and Tai Tokerau Border Control leader Hone Harawira said having the facility in Opua was too dangerous, given the outbreak of the Delta variant of coronavirus in Fiji.
“Fiji is Delta central, and not just Delta central but death central,” Harawira said.
Despite strict protocols to protect against Covid-19, Harawira said he had no faith they would work against the virulent Delta strain when yachts dock at Opua.
The port was too much of a risk to Northland, where health was poor, and the yachts should arrive in Auckland, which had more hospitals, he said.
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“If they want to come into a quarantine area, go to b..... Auckland – that’s the place that has all the resources, all the facilities, all the protection, all the doctors and all the ventilators.
“If it goes pear-shaped in Northland, we’ve got nothing,” Harawira said.
“Inviting that into the north is just not a good idea."
Chris Galbraith, the general manager of Far North Holdings which runs Port Opua, said the health protocols were being revised and would likely be enhanced to protect against Delta.
“We're looking to ensure there’s no risk of it escaping through our port border,” he said.
About 50 yachts were expected to come this year from the South Pacific – mostly from Fiji and New Caledonia – with most expected to arrive in November before the cyclone season started, he said.
Galbraith said most sailors were very conscious of protecting the environment, and many people were filtered out as they had to be skilled enough and healthy enough to spent at least eight days at sea.
Customs’ maritime group manager, Robert Smith, also said the border at Port Opua was safely and effectively managed to prevent Covid-19 from entering New Zealand.
All travellers had to isolate for 14 days, with the time period starting after the yacht departed its last international port.
The clock started again if there were any stop-offs along the way, he said.
“We advise travellers to plan their journey so that as much of the isolation period as possible is completed at sea.”
Sailors who take 12 days or more to sail to New Zealand may be able to complete the remaining isolation time onboard their yacht at Opua, but anyone who takes less than 12 days to arrive will be transferred to an MIQ facility in Auckland.
Travellers must also return a negative Covid-19 test and be assessed by a health professional before they can get off the boat or leave MIQ, Smith said.
Galbraith said the numbers of yachts expected to arrive at Opua was just a fraction of the usual 500 that used to come to the port each year.
The whole marine industry in Northland had taken a huge hit. International sailors were worth $54 million a year to the Northland economy in normal times, he said.