Science voyage cut short for researchers, crew to be with family

NIWA’s flagship research ship Tangaroa returned to Wellington yesterday after cutting short an international scientific voyage taking place off the east coast of New Zealand. Tangaroa left Wellington on 12 March and was originally due to return on 6 April. The ship left before COVID-19 Alert Levels were announced, however those on board were pre-screened and asked to declare any symptoms. No illness was reported during the voyage, and the two-week incubation period meant all have returned free of the virus. Researchers were intending to study how phytoplankton in the sea interact with clouds and affect the climate. Additional specialist equipment from France and Australia had been installed on board.
While the ship could have remained at sea until its intended return, NIWA vessels manager Greg Foothead said the decision was made to bring the ship back early so those on board could be reunited with families in the nationwide lockdown.

“The main concern of those on board was for loved ones at home, especially those at higher risk and with young families.”

There were 35 people on board, including 15 crew. Complicating the return of the ship were seven foreign nationals taking part in the voyage—five French researchers, one German and one American.
Mr Foothead said NIWA sought advice from the relevant embassies and worked with them to help those people to secure flights. They are staying in isolation at a Wellington motel.

“The process went incredibly well considering that we are just into the first few days of lockdown and we were all working from home to make this happen. I have been very impressed with how everyone came together to make it work under difficult circumstances.”

NIWA Chief Executive John Morgan said it was important that staff were with their families at this time and he had no hesitation in cutting the voyage short.

“This is a great outcome, and it will be a relief to have everyone safely back in their own homes.”

Tangaroa will remain in Wellington with two crew for the duration of the lockdown. Mr Foothead said there was now plenty of spare food for them. All NIWA voyages have been cancelled until at least the end of April.