Why can’t we cruise?

Warriors Viliame Lotawa and William Dyer welcome tourists from the cruise ship Majestic Princes at Lautoka Port IN 2019. The authors of ANZ’s Pacific Economic Outlook on Fiji say they expect tourism to boom over 2022 and 2023 lifting growth by 23.2 per cent in 2022 and 5.4 per cent in 2023. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

Government and businesses in Fiji pay lip service to the promotion of international tourism, but the reality for foreign tourists on boats currently in Fiji has become anything but welcoming.

The reality is that Fiji is discriminating against foreign cruisers by continuing to lock them down in marinas and anchorages, while permitting Fijians and foreign visitors who are not on boats free movement during daylight hours.

“Cruisers” from many countries come to Fiji every year to experience its wonderful cruising grounds, meet the friendly Fijian people and learn about Fiji and its culture.

They make a significant financial contribution to local businesses by paying for food and drink, provisions, fuel, mooring fees and marine services and the many events and activities offered to tourists.

Fiji has had to close its borders to all international tourists, including cruisers — a painful but necessary step to contain and finally eliminate covid-19.

However, there are simply no good reasons to continue to “lockdown” foreign cruisers who are already in Fiji — and very good reasons to reissue cruising permits to let them sail again in Fiji waters.

There is no health reason to continue to lockdown cruisers.

Almost all the foreign-flagged yachts presently in Fiji entered the country before the pandemic.

They have complied with all restrictions and pose no health risk to people living in the outer islands.

The cruising community in Fiji always was, and continues to be, virus-free.

It has been suggested by some that the Government is continuing the lockdown on cruisers because of the curfew.

However, any claim that coastal cruising would run afoul of curfew restrictions lacks merit.

Cruisers can sail Fiji waters without being in violation of the curfew.

First, foreign boats do not sail at night because uncertain charting and invisible reefs and shoal water make it much too dangerous.

For that reason, cruisers are at anchor, and stay at anchor, from late afternoon until mid-morning the following day, well before and after curfew hours.

Further, except for a meal or a drink ashore, cruisers remain on their boats all night.

Simply put, cruisers have effectively abided by a self-imposed curfew long before Fiji had a curfew.

There are approximately 20 foreign cruising boats wanting to get cruising permits in and near Vuda Marina.

There are certainly more than that at the three marinas in Savusavu, the Port Denarau Marina, the Musket Cove Yacht Club, the Royal Suva Yacht Club and at various anchorages around the country.

Most of these yachts have been in Fiji for six months or more weathering the cyclone season.

They have spent thousands of dollars at the few locations where they have been confined.

If free to sail Fiji waters, these cruisers could contribute to local economies in other locations, some of which are badly in need of outside income.

Every cruiser I know would be happy to buy fish or produce from local vendors, giving those people the means to buy petrol or staples for their families.

Yet the government lockdown prevents us from contributing to outlying communities.

Another reason to release foreign cruisers from lockdown is that continuing to do so is sending a bad message to cruisers and tourists thinking about coming to Fiji in the future.

Who wants to come to a country that locks down visitors for no apparent reason and doesn’t tell them why that is happening or when it might end?

Our repeated inquiries to immigration and Customs officials in Lautoka are answered again and again by saying only that cruising permits will not be issued until the Government allows it, with no information  provided about why we continue to be locked down or when or even under what circumstances that will

This makes it impossible for cruisers to make any plans for what to do next, or when to leave the country.

That’s not a very hospitable way to treat foreign guests and it gives the appearance to all tourists that Fiji is indifferent to the needs of visitors and their presence here isn’t valued.

The only thing we can tell other cruisers asking about coming to Fiji is: “Don’t come. They will lock you down in a marina, won’t tell you why and won’t let you sail in Fiji waters.”

Is that really a message Fiji wants to send to foreign cruisers?

Fiji is a wonderful country full of friendly, gracious and hospitable people.

Those of us who have come here would like to see this country and meet Fiji’s people, not continue to be confined to marinas for weeks or months.

As visitors and guests in Fiji, we don’t have the rights of Fijians.

And the Government  certainly has higher priorities and many urgent demands with which to contend at this time.

But would it be difficult, or problematic in any way, for Fiji to start issuing cruising permits at this time?

  •  Douglas McLean is Commodore of the Seven Seas Cruising Association and a retired district attorney from Madison, Wisconsin. He lives on his boat and is sailing around the world. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily shared by The Fiji Times.

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