High and dry: Kiwi oil-rig diver in limbo while waiting for self-isolation approval

Kiwi oil-rig diver Craig Chapman was faced with giving up his career because he couldn’t book an MIQ spot to get back into the country. Last month he was allocated one of the Government’s 150 self-managed isolation spots. Now, booked to fly to the UK on Friday, he still hasn’t had final clearance. Jane Phare reports.

Last month deep-sea saturation diver Craig Chapman was faced with leaving a 25-year-old career he loved and one that supported his family because, try as he might, he couldn’t book a space in MIQ to return home.

Then came the brilliant news that he’d been accepted on a trial of 150 fully-vaccinated people the Government will allow to manage their own isolation, as long as their isolation plan is approved.

And there lies the catch; Chapman still hasn’t heard whether or not he has final clearance from MBIE. From his Blenheim home, a delighted Chapman immediately filled out all the paperwork and submitted his Covid-19 proof plan two weeks ago. He is booked to fly to London from Christchurch on Friday, after first having a negative Covid-19 test, and on to Scotland.

“Now I’m waiting for approval of my isolation plan. I’ve asked the question from the self-isolation team but no one’s come back to me. I need a bit of clarification and certainty before I travel. I’m not going to travel if I can’t get home.”

Returning Kiwis meant MIQ queues became too long

Since Covid-19 arrived, Chapman has done five trips to work on North Sea oil rigs, followed by five, 14-day MIQ stays on his return. But as more and more Kiwis decided to come home, the queue became longer to the point where Chapman had thousands ahead of him.

Back in Blenheim, Chapman’s wife Louise tried fruitlessly to get an MIQ spot so he could come home but with thousands ahead of him, the dates he needed were gone by the time he got anywhere near the front.

A five-week turnaround stretched to 10 weeks because the MIQ dates didn’t match up with his return dates. Sometimes Chapman stayed in Scotland to do a second stint on the offshore diving vessel Seven Atlantic, carrying out construction, repair and maintenance work in a diving bell as deep as 200 metres, while he waited for a place.

In the end, with all the uncertainty about return dates, Chapman realised he could no longer go to work and was faced with finding another career. That was until he applied for one of the 150 self-managed isolation spots.

” I would have to be the safest person in New Zealand because of the protocols that I’ve got to go through to go to work.”

Those protocols included repeated testing for Covid-19, four days of isolation in an Aberdeen hotel, and a full diving medical before boarding the ship.

“We live in a diving chamber (on the ship) for up to 28 days, we’re totally isolated from the rest of the world, pressurised to the depth we’re working at. When we come out I take every precaution available because my livelihood depends on me being Covid-free.”

His self-managed isolation plan includes flying back into Christchurch after testing negative for Covid-19 and staying for 14 days in a pre-booked Airbnb ground-floor apartment with its own entrance and a small garden.

“They (health officials) will come and check on me and do (Covid) tests. I’ll do self-tests every day. I’ll get food deliveries from Countdown and they’ll drop it at the door.”

The Government is expected to announce a move to shorter stays in MIQ and, by next year, self-isolation for those who are vaccinated and test negative for Covid-19.

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