Normally, news of the arrival of an expedition ship in its port of departure is nothing special. Numerous tour operators and shipping companies start their Antarctic season between mid-October and early November. But this year, nothing is normal due to the COVID pandemic. The Antarctic season is cancelled by most shipping companies and the ships and guides have to wait. Not so in New Zealand with Heritage Expeditions. The company’s ship, the Spirit of Enderby, has come from Russia to offer expedition tours, at least for local guests.
The ship arrived in Lyttleton on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island this morning, November 16. The nearly 70-metre-long ship was able to dock luxuriously at Lyttleton’s newly built cruise pier. This is usually where the big cruise ships with their thousands of passengers dock. However, the Spirit, as it is affectionately called in New Zealand, accommodates a maximum of 50 guests and is thus one of the small expedition ships for polar regions.
For Aaron Russ, one of the two owners of Heritage Expeditions, the arrival of the ship marks the end of a long journey. “The ship was still in New Zealand in mid-March, that is before COVID. Since then we have been in close contact and have been working towards this day,” he told TV station Television New Zealand. “We are looking forward to starting with guests soon.” But before the first guests get on board, the ship needs to be provisioned in Lyttleton. In addition, the crew members, all from Russia, have to pass a COVID test, their third overall. A quarantine is not issued as the ship had been at sea for 43 days and no other port had been called since the start of the sailing. The crew itself had already undergone two tests and a quarantine in Vladivostok, the ship’s home port.
From November 24, the Spirit of Enderby, whose real name is Professor Khromov, will first lead guests from Invercargill into the “backyard” nature of the New Zealand islands such as Stewart Island or the Fjordland region. It is not until December that southbound journeys to the sub-Antarctic islands such as Campbell and Snares are planned. “After the “Galapagos of the South”, as our trips to the New Zealand Sub-Antarctic Islands are also called, we hope to be able to reach the Ross Sea with its huge icebergs, glaciers and penguin colonies,” Aaron Russ explains in a direct conversation. “We are implementing a very strict programme of measures to keep the entire islands and Antarctica COVID-free. This includes no visits to stations, strict hygiene rules on board and distance rules to the animals. In addition, only New Zealand guests are present.” New Zealand has reacted very quickly to a second wave thanks to very strict measures and is currently reporting 58 COVID cases in isolation, 57 of them from returned citizens. Foreigners are not allowed currently into the country, with a few exceptions from Australia. Since the outbreak, 2001 cases of COVID have been reported, with 25 people dead.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
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