Kiwis trapped in Nouméa: Air NZ won’t fly from New Caledonia for days

Flags of an independent Kanaky fly at a barricade near Nouméa
Flags of an "independent" Kanaky fly at a barricade near Nouméa. Image: @ana_nabati/APR

New Caledonia’s Tontouta International Airport remains closed, and Air New Zealand’s next scheduled flight is on Saturday — although it is not ruling out adding extra services.

Air NZ’s Captain David Morgan said on Monday evening flights would only resume when they were assured of the security of the airport and safe access for passengers and staff.

Later, the airline said its “next scheduled service is Saturday, May 25. However, we will continue to review this and may add capacity when the airport reopens”.

AirCalin said tonight Tontouta airport would be closed until May 23.

The capital descended into chaos last Monday, after riots protesting against a controversial new bill that would allow French residents who have lived there for more than 10 years to vote — which critics say will weaken the indigenous Kanak vote.

At least six people have been killed, and more than 230 people have been arrested.

A NZ Defence Force Hercules is on standby to bring 250 Kiwis home, but it is awaiting clearance from French authorities.

Clearing roadblocks
Hundreds of armed French police have been using armoured vehicles to clear protesters and roadblocks between the international airport and Nouméa.

The risky route — which stretches for about 50 km north of the capital — is the key reason why the airport remains closed.

Emma Roylands, a Kiwi studying at the University of New Caledonia, said the nights on campus had been stressful.

“We’ve set up a sense of a roster, or a shift, that watches over the night time for the university, and this high-strung suspicion from every noise, every bang, that is that someone coming to the university,” she said.

Roylands said she was not sure if the French police would be able to successfully clear the main road to the airport.

“Clearing the road for an hour north seems like an impossible task with these rioters,” she said.

Shula Guse from Canterbury, who was on holiday with her partner and friends, said many shops were running low on stock.

‘Nothing on the shelves’
“The shops are closed or if they’re open they have empty shelves, the local corner dairy has nothing on the shelves,” she said.

Guse said she managed to buy some flour and yeast from a local pizza shop and had started making her own bread.

She said her group had flights rebooked for tomorrow — but there had been no confirmation from Air New Zealand on whether it would go ahead.

Guse, whose friends were running low on heart medication, said they would have to make other plans if it fell through.

“When today is finished, and we haven’t heard any news, then we might start tomorrow looking for more medication, more food, just to make sure we have enough.”

The Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said the NZDF Hercules was ready, as soon as French authorities gave permission.

When asked whether the Navy would be deployed, MFAT said its focus was on flight repatriation.

RNZ asked whether New Zealand would consider helping evacuate people from other Pacific countries who were stranded in New Caledonia. MFAT said it had been engaging with Pacific partners about the crisis.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said he was unable to put a timeframe on how soon New Zealanders could return.

He said they were continuing to explore possible options, including working alongside Australia and other partners to help get New Zealanders home.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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