FOR months, business owners and yachties have been grappling with a surge in robberies in the Chaguaramas peninsula, which has resulted in a drastic decline of the yachting industry.
In an effort to protect themselves and their property from the bandits, cruisers have now joined businessmen in conducting on-water patrols of the Chaguaramas harbour. However, their efforts are not yielding enough success and they are upset they are not being protected from the criminals by the relevant authorities.
This is despite the fact that the yachting industry occupies around three square miles in Chaguaramas and is in close proximity to the Coast Guard, Air Guard and the Regiment.
Previously, Trinidad was always considered the preferred destination for yachties seeking a reprieve during the hurricane season, as well as repair work for their yachts. However, due to the current scenario the yachting sector and the 1400 jobs it provides is now at risk.
Figures from the Yacht Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago show that since the end of June, 20 dinghies, their engines and other items have been stolen from yachts while their owners were either asleep or not onboard their vessels at Chaguaramas.
The latest theft occurred on October 18 at the Crews Inn dinghy dock opposite the Customs office, where a dinghy and its outboard, valued at $48,000, was stolen.
Public relations officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, Lt Kirk Jean-Baptiste, told the Express the Coast Guard is aware of an increase in robberies and has been conducting day and night patrols in the area although "they can't be there all the time". He said the Coast Guard has in the past apprehended persons involved in malicious acts towards cruisers. However, when the Express visited Chaguaramas, businessmen bitterly complained about what they consider to be the slow and insufficient response by the relevant authorities.
The figures also demonstrate growing discontent among cruisers, many of whom have vowed never to return to Trinidad. For 2010, yachtie arrivals have dropped by 50 per cent. Marinas which are usually full to capacity this time of the year have been especially affected, Niels Lund, of Budget Marine Rigging, told the Express.
"The sentiment among cruisers is that they will not be returning, they don't see why they should travel long distances only to feel threatened and be at risk when they get here," Lund said.
"What a cruiser wants is safety, to anchor and not have to lock the boat. We want good anchorages, a clean environment where we could swim ... If anyone asks whether I will be coming back, I will tell them no. Most of the cruisers I socialise with have said they will not return," said South African cruiser Larry D'aguiar.
This is distressing news to businessmen who are keeping close tabs on the situation.
Managing director of Gittens Engine Sales and Services, Adian Gittens, estimates his business has declined by 60 per cent.
"The marinas try their best with security guards and cameras but there are still thefts. Everyone is concerned about the spate of robberies. For the yachties it is difficult to entertain the thought of coming back. If this continues we would eventually have to close up, because our expenses will outweigh our income," Gittens said.
When the Express spoke to Jennifer McDonald, of Chaguaramas Metal Works, she pointed to a whiteboard in her office which is usually covered with reminders of jobs that need to be completed. On this occasion, the board was bare with the exception of a few jobs. This year has been the worst, she said, with business dropping by at least 50 per cent.
"Government has said it is looking to create new industries away from oil and gas. Well, we have the best yachting industry in the Caribbean but it is being destroyed and because of the authorities' indifference to our problems, what we have will be downgraded and many people would lose their jobs. This is completely unacceptable," Lund added.