The marine industry is in talks with government officials to set up a trans-Tasman sea bubble for cruising and superyachts to bring much-needed business to the struggling sector.

Gigantic big and large luxury mega or super motor yacht on the blue ocean.Photo: 123rf


It is worried the 20 superyachts moored here will sail to Australia, which lets vessels in from New Zealand without quarantine.

This comes after 10 superyachts linked to global rich listers, including the media and casino tycoon James Packer, were given permission to enter New Zealand but never arrived in time for the America’s Cup.

Whang─ürei-based company Oceania Marine is one of the bigger superyacht refit specialists in the country and it is doing it tough.

The maritime border here is closed to all but approved trade vessels and a few other small categories.

Marketing manager Jim Loynes said business was slow.

“It’s a big worry, we’re doing it tough at the moment across the marine industry. I think limited amount of visiting yachts coming this year and next summer as well because they’d normally be on their way but they can’t come now,” he said.

“It’s a very limited pool of work so losing anything is very harmful at the moment, we need to hang on to everything we’ve got.”

Official figures show the government approved 30 superyachts to arrive under its $50,000 repair work exemption, in time for the America’s Cup, but 10 of these pleasure crafts never arrived.

Now there’s concern the superyachts still moored here will sail to Australia, which lets vessels in from New Zealand without quarantine.

Loynes expects some clients will head across the Tasman and the company will lose business.

“We’d like to see that reciprocated the same as the air bubble, that vessels of any flag in Australia can look at coming to New Zealand for a refit and repairwork and later on cruising to help the tourism industry as well,” he said.

“This would open up another avenue of trade in the difficult times that we’re experiencing.”

The Ministry of Health provided the names of the 10 superyachts approved to come here that never arrived – including James Packer’s $200 million superyacht IJE.

The Marine Industry Association has put the real count much higher, after watching foreign vessels return home when the maritime border closed.

Its chief executive Peter Busfield said this year has been tough and he knows of six companies servicing superyachts that have not survived.

“It’s been a real struggle for a number of those companies and unfortunately some of those companies have gone to the wall and have gone out of business, others have reduced their staffing, made their apprentices redundant and the like through the lack of work due to the lack of superyachts and cruising yachts visiting New Zealand over the last nine or 10 months.”

The association is in talks with government officials to set up a trans-Tasman sea travel bubble.

Busfield said there are 70 superyachts in Australia that travel the high seas.

“If we only got 10 or 20 percent of those superyachts, that would be maybe 10 or so superyachts from Australia, that could represent $30 million worth of business to the New Zealand marine industry and economy, that would be of some assistance.”

In a statement the Ministry of Health said “consideration is being given to how and when the maritime border might be opened up, and to whom”.

The ministry said several government agencies are collaborating to see how the border can open in a safe and effective way.

Busfield said a sea travel bubble is urgent for the marine sector to survive.

“We want to send out a signal that these boats are welcome to come to NZ as long they comply with our Covid restrictions.”

He said a proposal would be presented to Cabinet ministers.

“We’re encouraging the relevant Cabinet ministers to, with urgency, give approval for a sea border with Australia for cruising yachts and superyachts. We’d like it to come out within a month or so with such approval but we’re not holding our breath.”

Those in the marine sector hope any travel bubble would eventually extend to vessels arriving from the East – the likes of America, Panama and Costa Rica.

Superyacht agent and Catalano Shipping Services managing director Duthie Lidgard said he had four superyacht owners keen to sail into New Zealand waters by December.

“If we looked at our piece of paper of what we’re expecting it’s pretty grim. The industry is going to be hit pretty hard if we don’t see any approvals for boats to enter. We’re going from 20 boats a season to one handful at best,” he said.

“If our borders don’t change they’re going to stay in Tahiti and head back to the US.”