Little Compass RoseCaribbean Compass   April 2004


Ancient Customs in St. Lucia?

by Chris Doyle

In many ways I have been very encouraged on recent visits to St. Lucia.

Rodney Bay Marina has been upgraded considerably over the last few years. It looks well maintained and now has wonderful restaurants, cafés, and a big duty-free chandlery. As a result it has a feeling of community and lots of yachts on the docks.

The docks in Marigot Bay are being beautifully rebuilt, the first step in the Discovery Marigot plan to recreate the southern shore from its ruined state.
Soufriere and its Marine Management Area (SMMA) continue to flourish and improve.

With all this good news, I ask myself why St. Lucia's government officials seem incapable of rewriting their Customs rules to meet the demands of the modern yacht tourism industry.
When I came to the Eastern Caribbean back in 1969, yachting was just beginning, and yachts were officially treated as shipping, with the same rules. For example, to go from "mainland" Grenada to Carriacou, or even an anchorage like Hog Island, you had to get a coastwise permit from Customs. This was then true in many other island nations, especially in Trinidad & Tobago, where they wanted to know each time you moved your anchoring spot!

Few yachtspeople, however, are willing to put up with this bureaucratic nightmare, and over the past 35 years these regulations died out in places such as Grenada because they were ignored. In the case of Trinidad, local investors told the government that they were not prepared to put money into yachting infrastructure until the government allowed free movement of yachts, as they knew that the onerous regulations that were in place would kill any hope of developing a yachting industry.
The situation today is much better. Of all the countries in the Eastern Caribbean that have a significant yachting industry, all but one have similar regulations: Once you have cleared into the country you are free to cruise wherever you wish (excepting restricted areas) until you clear out to leave. This is true today in Trinidad (with some restrictions), Grenada, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Martinique, Guadeloupe, Antigua, and Sint Maarten/St. Martin, Why not St. Lucia?

When you clear into St. Lucia, you have to state which anchorages you intend to visit. If you include one that is not a port of clearance - Anse Cochon or the Pitons, for example - you then have to say on which particular day or days you will be there, and you have to pay an EC$25 "permit to moor" fee for each day you want to be there, and you have to get the written permit.

On many occasions I have been asked to welcome the ARC participants to St. Lucia with a talk about Caribbean cruising. Since St. Lucia has a number of lovely anchorages, I like to encourage them to cruise here. I find it embarrassing to have to tell them that before they visit Anse Cochon or the Pitons, they first have to go to Customs, tell them which day they want to be there, pay EC$25, and get a written permit. It makes St. Lucia seem more like Cuba than like its neighboring islands.

The situation is made worse because both of these anchorages are part of the SMMA/CMMA area and therefore, in addition to the "permit to moor" fee, overnight mooring fees to support the marine park are applicable. Yachts having paid for a "permit to moor" frequently refuse to pay their park fees, claiming they "have already paid". Not only does this have a bad effect on the park, but those people who refuse to pay genuinely feel that officials have tried to rip them off, and they spread this bad news about St. Lucia.
On some years I have visited, Customs has exempted the ARC  participants from this "permit to moor" regulation, which leads me to ask: If you are going to give an exemption to the ARC to encourage yachting, why not exempt everyone?

If revenue collection is the point of all this, why not simply increase the clearance fee on entry? My guess is less than 10 percent of people on a single visit will pay the extra fee and avail themselves of a "permit to moor". (Partly because of the current regulations, most yachts think of St. Lucia as a place to stop but not a place to cruise.) This means that if Customs charged everyone EC$2.50 extra on entry, the yachtspeople would hardly notice and Customs would be better off, plus the freedom to cruise the island freely would encourage more yachts to visit.

There is no question in my mind that the "permit to moor" regulation is damaging St. Lucia's yachting industry.

It is obvious that the private sector in St. Lucia is now serious about yachting. Isn't it time Customs also got serious and dropped this anachronistic regulation?

Copyright© 2004 Compass Publishing