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The situation facing cruising yachts which are stuck in the South Pacific owing to the COVID pandemic is becoming increasingly grim. The Australian and New Zealand governments have refused them entry, despite the fact that they present a very low risk of bringing the virus to our shores, and are very easy to quarantine at low cost.

As the cyclone season approaches in the South Pacific, cruising organisations are stepping up their efforts to provide aid for the 300 or more sailors affected.

Following is an email from John Hembrow of the Down Under Rally:

Dear one & all,

You are receiving this email because we and the members of the international sailing & cruising community desperately need your help!

I expect your aware that many members of the international sailing & cruising community are facing the dire situation of being unable to depart the SW Pacific and voyage to either Australia or New Zealand for the purpose of seeking shelter during the upcoming cyclone season despite the need to do so, in our opinion, clearly falling under the category of a compelling need to travel which is published on the Australian Department of Home Affairs website as being a reason for applying for a travel exemption

In respect to the Australian appeal that has been made on behalf of these members of the internationally sailing community, The Ocean Cruising Club initially wrote to the Health and Border Force Ministers in April and again more recently has written to the Prime Minister. After receiving a letter in June advising of the exemption process available, the OCC conducted a pilot, and all five boats that were part of that pilot were rejected. The OCC has been supported by a Senator who has advocated at the highest possible levels for cruising yachts. Recently, one last attempt was made with a group exemption application, involving a letter to the Prime Minister and a group of over 20 yachts. The Senator ensured this was again considered at the highest possible levels.

However, we feel there is still hope as in the most recent response to the Ocean Cruising Club appeal the Australian Border Force stated that:

 "The travellers may wish to consider whether they may present as a significant economic activity for a State or Territory and seek their support.”

The attached letter, drafted this week by the Down Under Rally in collaboration with the Ocean Cruising Club, demonstrates that these travellers do indeed present a significant economic activity for a state or territory, namely the state of Queensland. 

As such this letter has today been sent to the Premier of Queensland, The General Manager of Maritime Safety Queensland & the Queensland Minister for Tourism in a last ditch and urgent appeal  to provide a pathway for these vessels and their crew members to enter Australia in Queensland.

As businesses owners, organisations and individuals who benefit greatly from the annual visitation of these internationally flagged, privately owned pleasure craft we urge you to carefully read the attached letter of appeal and then immediately forward the letterto the Lord Mayor of the Brisbane, The Lord Mayor of Bundaberg & The Lord Mayor of The Gold Coast as well as  your local member of parliament and any other person of influence informing them of your support and requesting that they contact the Qld Premier and also provide their support of this appeal. Please do this as a matter of priority as time is of the essence and is becoming critical for these vessels and their crew members to safely voyage to Australia before the commencement of cyclone season.  

PLEASE GET INVOLVED & HELP US TO HELP THESE SAILORS, AND IN THE PROCESS PROVIDE ALL OF OUR BUSINESSES, AND THE QUEENSLAND ECONOMY WITH A MUCH NEEDED BOOST.  
 
The letter reads:
 
Annastacia Palaszczuk Premier of Queensland Email thepremier@premiers.qld.gov.au   
 
EMERGING CRISIS SMALL CRUISING YACHT REFUGE FOR 2020/21 CYCLONE SEASON 
 
Dear Premier,
 
We are writing to you on behalf of the international cruising & sailing fleet throughout the Pacific, that are desperately seeking safe haven for the upcoming cyclone season.
 
Upwards of 300 yachts are stuck in ‘COVID limbo’ across the South Pacific, crews are urgently seeking refuge for the forthcoming cyclone season. Mostly in Fiji and French Polynesia they will take 2-6 weeks to sail to Queensland. The cyclone season commences 1 November, the safety of these small yachts sailed by families, couples and singlehanders is at serious risk of harm if they cannot gain safe haven in Queensland soonest. For most, their yacht is their home and is not be insured within the cyclone-prone regions. Folk cannot leave their yachts as there are not the facilities to safely berth or dry-store all the yachts in these small Pacific nations.
 
The Ocean Cruising Club (OCC), in collaboration with the Down Under Rally first began lobbying at a federal level on behalf of the owners and crewmembers aboard these vessels in April this year when it first became apparent that a crisis was looming in relation to where these vessels and those aboard would be able to shelter during the 2020/21 cyclone season.
 
To date all efforts by the Down Under Rally and the OCC in this regard have been to no avail with both the Australian Government and New Zealand Government response being that the circumstances these people find themselves in do not qualify them for travel exemptions and as such they have been denied entry into either country.
 
The most recent response in this regard from the Australian Border Force is attached. The reason we are bring this matter to your attention is that the ABF have suggested that: "The travellers may wish to consider whether they may present as a significant economic activity for a State or Territory and seek their support".
 
This letter is seeking Queensland’s support. These travellers, or “Nautical Tourists” are few, compared to those who choose more conventional methods of international travel, the contribution these visitors make to the economy is in the millions.
 
The average period of stay in Australia between 9 to 18 months. In addition to living costs and tourism activities they also undertake maintenance and repair on their yachts, supporting local marine industries.
 
In a recent survey of these vessels it was revealed that on average each vessel will spend $4000.00 per month during their stay excluding costs related to vessel repairs, maintenance & or refitting. This equates to a spend per vessel of $36,000.00.
 
Given the average period of stay is between 9 & 18 months the net result is a contribution of $61,000 per vessel that stays for the minimum of 9 months and $97,000 for those who stay for 18 months.
 
In a typical year around 200 foreign cruising yachts arrive in Australia. This equates to a total spend by these Nautical Tourists of between $12,200,000 - $19,400,000 during the period of stay (9 -18months).
 
Much of this money is typically spent in regional areas as opposed to cities and as such benefits regional small businesses and the local communities. The survey also revealed that during their stay an additional $25,000.00 per vessel will be spent on vessel related repairs, maintenance and or refitting. This equates to an additional Five Million Dollars ($5,000,000.00) being injected in the marine sector, the majority of which comprises small to medium size business operators with the vast majority of this maintenance work typically carried out in SE Queensland.
 
Given the isolated nature of their current everyday existence & combined with the fact that whilst making the voyage from the Pacific to Australia, the majority will spend 14 days or more at sea and as such have zero contact with anyone other than those aboard the vessel the COVID19 infection risk profile of those aboard these vessels is surely negligible.
 
We have developed COVID safe, self-isolation “quarantine” protocols for arriving vessels. We ask that the Queensland Government urgently consider the situation these Nautical Tourists face, the high yield and low risk mature of their visitation and support our appeal to assist them to gain entry into Australia at ports in SE Queensland.
 
URGENCY AND CONCLUSION
 
The Ocean Cruising Club considers this a major crisis as yachts have no escape, they normally move out of the cyclone zone for the spring/summer months, there are insufficient facilities in destinations such as French Polynesia and Fiji to safely berth yachts. This puts life and property at risk and potentially endangers emergency personnel in any cyclone event.
 
The Ocean Cruising Club is seeking an urgent solution, it has provided draft self isolation protocols and will work with Queensland officials and communicate to the fleet to ensure COVID safe practices for arrivals. To avoid any doubt the fleet accepts thorough quarantine protocols on arrival.
 
With the cyclone season commencing 1 November and yachts being 4-6 weeks sail away an immediate solution is required.
 
Noting the potential economic benefit to Queensland, please confirm urgently Queensland’s position on providing cyclone refuge. We do seek an urgent reply as we have many worried cruisers who still have major ocean passages to make during good weather windows to ensure safe landfall.
 
We remain available to offer any further information and can use social media, email and radio networks to communicate to the cruising fleet.
 
I would ask that any enquiries be addressed to our Roving Rear Commodore Guy Chester and Pacific Ocean Coordinator, Fiona Jones (contact details below).
 
Yours Sincerely, 
 
Simon Currin,  Commodore  27 September 2020 
 
cc:  Kate Jones: Minister for State Development, Tourism and Innovation   OCC Roving Rear Commodore, Guy Chester (guychester@ecosustainability.com)  OCC Pacific Coordinator, Fiona Jones (network_indopacific@oceancruisingclub.org) 
Director, Down Under Rally, John Hembrow, downunderrally@gmail.com

 

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