Yachtie calls on Aust, NZ to set up Blue Lanes

The skipper of a yacht that has just been cleared under Fiji’s ‘Blue Lane’ program says Australia, New Zealand and other Pacific island nations should follow Fiji’s lead and create an easy pathway for yachts to visit their countries.

Keith Whitaker, who is sailing on the Zatara with his family, says this would ensure the sustainability of Fiji’s ‘Blue Lane’ program as the cyclone season approaches.

“In order for Fiji’s Blue Lane to be really successful you need a country like New Zealand or Australia that’s out of the cyclone belt to create a Blue Lane and to imitate what Fiji’s done. And they need to do that right away because what’s hurting the cruising community right now—yachties right now that are stuck in New Zealand—is the uncertainty of where they can go once the cyclone season comes.”

The America’s Cup is scheduled to be staged in New Zealand later this year and prior to travel restrictions imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific Island nations such as Fiji were hopeful yachts transiting from the northern hemisphere would call into island ports before continuing on the watch the race.

Whitaker says Fiji should be congratulated for taking the lead: “I think that Fiji has done an outstanding job with their Blue Lane program of allowing yachties to come in.”

“Yachties are the least risk for COVID spread,  all of us are conscientious to the environment, conscientious to culture, conscientious to spreading any kind of disease.  All of us are going to be clear when we leave the port we’re coming from and I think it is absolutely necessary for all of these islands to open up to yachties. Most of us to have money to spend, we have boat projects to do and we bring some revenue to the economy that otherwise in a time of COVID-19 you’re not getting.”

The Whitaker family has previously cruised Fiji, Tonga, American Samoa and parts of French Polynesia. They stopped at the disputed Minerva Reef en route from New Zealand due to bad weather, with the permission of the Tongan navy, according to Whitaker.

In his contribution to the 2020-21 Fiji Budget debate this week, Tourism Minister Faiyaz Koya said 26 yachts had been approved to enter Fiji and are anticipated to inject F$1million into the economy. Port Denarau Marina says it has received 100 applications from yachts and superyacht owners wishing to travel to Fiji. This is the only allowable port of entry into Fiji under the Blue Lane program.

In neighbouring Tonga, Matangi Tonga reports that two yachts, the Nadine and Clio that were on the way to Fiji have been allowed to anchor at Port Maurelle until weather clears.

“The situation is under control, they are not allowed ashore, the vessels are separated and we are keeping a sharp monitor on them,” Tongan Navy Commander Taniela Tuita told Matangi Tonga.

All international cruise ships and yachts scheduled to arrive in Tonga were barred indefinitely from March 17. Tonga has no recorded cases of COVID-19.

Meanwhile French Polynesia is also moving to welcome superyachts and reopening to cruise ships. Paul Gauguin Cruises is due to resume its schedule of seven-to-14-night sailings in Tahiti, French Polynesia and the South Pacific from next month.