Saturday, February 17, 2018

Piracy, thefts scaring away yachties

I read with interest a letter to the editor which outlined that visiting cruisers in Chaguaramas have teamed up with the local business owners to do "on-water" patrols in Chaguaramas Bay to ensure their safety.

I found this rather shocking, so I called some of my friends working in Chaguaramas to get the scoop.

The truth is, between June and today, an obscene amount of outboard engines and dinghies have been stolen from visiting cruisers and locals alikeóboth in Chaguaramas Bay and at Hart's Cut. Engines and dinghies were being stolen at the rate of two to three every two days. Pleas to the Coast Guard resulted in one or two patrols a week but nothing significant.

The local business owners decided to do something about it and launched their own patrols. So now, every night, on a privately owned boat generously donated by a local owner, two to three Chaguaramas business owners patrol Chaguaramas Bay, starting late at night and ending just before dawn.

Not only is this extremely dangerous, but it will eventually take its toll on these people and their ability to function properly at their job. Of course, the volunteers to patrol started dwindling, so the visiting cruisers stepped up to the plate. Although the rate of the thefts has dropped considerably, they still continue. Looks as though the thieves are watching the patrols and timing them.

So what's wrong with this picture? Now, visiting cruisers/tourists coming to Trinidad to wait out the hurricane season and to get much-needed repairs to their yachts (and spend their US and Euro dollars in Trinidad) must now stay up doing night patrols to ensure the safety of their items during their stay in Trinidad. My question is, would you ever visit a country where you had to stay up at night and patrol the space to protect yourself and your goods?

The amazing thing is the bulk of the thefts have taken place at Hart's Cut where a Coast Guard base is situated. Chaguaramas Bay sits between two Coast Guard bases, the army base, regiment and the air guard, yet the thieving continues.

The yachting sector is already in decline, and this stemmed partly from the piracy attacks between Trinidad and Grenada and Venezuela. Cruisers were just plain scared to make the journey to Trinidad. Kudos to the T&T Coast Guard for implementing a float plan for yachts travelling to and from Trinidad. It is working, and the cruisers are equally as impressed that the system works.

So now, we have piracy, rampant thieving in the bays; sour Immigration officials, who hardly ever smile when they see a cruiser; red tape like you have never seen before to sail from Trinidad to Tobago, or even to Scotland Bay or Chacachacare; and a Coast Guard that does not respond when you call them. Oddly enough, Customs in Chaguaramas have gotten their act together, and it is a rather painless experience now for cruisers.

Reading the above, would you want to visit this country to spend your now meagre retirement funds to fix your yacht, be treated as though the country does not want you here, get your eye "chook out" with rising prices and have to patrol the port to protect yourself?

No wonder the industry is in decline. It is time the Government wakes up and takes this multi-million-dollar industry seriously before the 1,400 people working in it have to go on the breadline.

Jo-Marie Francois