Cruise lines knew rules: Biosecurity

Viking Orion was one of three cruise ships whose visits to Dunedin were cancelled recently. PHOTO...
Viking Orion was one of three cruise ships whose visits to Dunedin were cancelled recently. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Cruise ship operators who ran afoul of biosecurity rules and scuppered three visits to Dunedin were given more than enough time to get their vessels up to scratch, authorities say.

Coral PrincessViking Orion and Queen Elizabeth all cancelled stops in Dunedin recently after failing to meet New Zealand’s strict biosecurity requirements, denying a potential 5000 passengers from visiting the city.

The Otago Daily Times was the first to report stowaway snails stopped Coral Princess from berthing at Port Chalmers on Christmas Eve, leaving passengers disappointed.

Biosecurity New Zealand environmental health manager Paul Hallett said cruise operators were advised of the regulations by port agents "well in advance" of the cruise season.

He also said the decision not to stop in Dunedin was made by the cruise operators who were only required to stay away from Fiordland and the Bay of Islands.

Mr Hallett said Biosecurity NZ was concerned about the number of ships failing to meet biofouling rules and the issue was at the forefront of discussions with the New Zealand Cruise Association on Monday.

"We know that the association and vessel operators understand the importance of New Zealand’s strict biosecurity protocols."

During the meeting it was made clear to operators that the biofouling regulations had not changed and applied to all commercial vessels.

Crabs, starfish, mussels and oysters were all considered high-risk organisms that could attach themselves to hulls and cause damage in special marine environments, something Biosecurity NZ wanted to prevent.

The requirements were first issued in 2014 but a four-year educational period was undertaken to give cruise operators time to adapt their protocols.

Enforcement started in 2018 and there was a significant increase in notices in 2020.

When any vessel arrived in New Zealand for the first time, it was given extra scrutiny and because most cruise ships sat idle during the height of the Covid pandemic they were treated as new arrivals.

Vessel operators, agents, the New Zealand Cruise Association and Biosecurity NZ agreed there was a combination of factors that led to the three recent vessels failing to meet the biofouling rules, he said.

"These include the long layoff from cruising due to the pandemic, many new personnel at cruise companies and logistical and commercial restraints when it comes to biofouling cleaning."

Those commercial constraints included occasional shortages of commercial divers to clean the vessels.

Three notices of direction were issued to cruise ships for biosecurity reasons this season, but that did not mean they had to avoid Dunedin, he said.

"Dunedin is an approved port but any decision to not call there has been the decision of the cruise lines."

A Cunard spokeswoman said New Zealand’s biosecurity regulations were the strictest in the world and cruise operators were adapting to the standard, as was the broader shipping industry.

Queen Elizabeth was scheduled to berth in Dunedin yesterday but cancelled the stop to allow for the hull to be cleaned, which meant it was unable to stop in Fiordland and Dunedin.

"While these circumstances are rare, they do occur from time to time," the Cunard spokeswoman said.

"We are dedicated to protecting the communities we visit and we are committed to ensuring that our hull maintenance programme meets the standards required in 2023 and beyond."

A Carnival Australia spokeswoman said all its brands, including Princess cruises, were committed to ensuring its hull maintenance programme met the "stringent" standards.

It did not say why Coral Princess could not stop in Dunedin.

"We continue to work closely with the New Zealand Government to ensure we adhere to their stringent biosecurity requirements."

Viking Cruises did not respond to questions.

Mr Hallett said 42 vessels were issued notices of direction for biosecurity issues between May 2018 and January 2020, one of which was a commercial cruise ship.

From 2020 to September 2022, 377, 6% of all international vessels, were issued notices of direction for biosecurity reasons.

Dunedin City Council Dunedin i-Site Visitor Centre manager Louise van de Vlierd said there were nine weather-related cancellations in the 2019-2020 season, before Covid prompted the final nine cruises to cancel at the end of the season.