The New Zealand Navy led an unusual mercy mission to recover two people stranded in Singapore for 18 months due to Covid-19.

A health problem prevented the two men from traveling to New Zealand and their declining bank balances made it difficult for them to stay in Singapore.

According to documents released under the Official Information Act, the mission took place after an adviser from the New Zealand High Commission in Singapore intervened on behalf of the couple, saying their position was “very unique” and that ‘he feared that “their situation would turn into a worse situation”.

The couple, whose cases were first reported by Stuff, were given a special exemption to travel on the HMNZS Canterbury, which was then undergoing refurbishment in Singapore. The ship departed Singapore in November 2021. The trip lasted 19 days, meaning the couple did not need to self-quarantine upon arrival in New Zealand.

Leaked government emails show concern that the mission could set an embarrassing precedent. However, an official wrote: “This is not an evacuation at Dunkirk from [New Zealanders] from Southeast Asia.

In a separate email, the manager wrote: “If we set a precedent that people who do not have the ability to fly end up in a place where there is a [navy] ship, which is heading towards [New Zealand], with available space and medical staff on board, I can live with that.

The New Zealand Foreign Ministry noted that the case involved a “very specific and unusual set of circumstances” and declined to comment further.