Tackling T&T’s Major Yachting Industry Concerns
by J. Wynner
Floating around the Caribbean there is a perception that piracy exists in Trinidad & Tobago waters.
This idea was laid to rest by Tommy Johnson, President of the Yacht Services Association of Trinidad & Tobago (YSATT), and by YSATT board member Jesse James of Members Only Taxi Service & Tours, when interviewed by Indera Sagewan of the T&T television station ietv in June.
The interview looked into the current state of the yachting industry in T&T, and especially the reason for the sharp decline in yachts visiting T&T between the mid-1990s and 2017.
The question of whether or not piracy is a real danger in T&T waters was one of the major concerns dealt with. The other main deterrent to yacht visitors discussed was the contentious problem of T&T not having a single entry form. An added concern is the difficulty in obtaining an extension to remain in T&T.
Previously an extension could have been obtained at the Immigration and Customs office in Chaguaramas. Now yacht visitors have to trek into Port of Spain to get permission to remain longer. The reason given for this change in venue is the present shortage of staff, which makes it difficult to get an officer to Chaguaramas.
However, in the meanwhile it is expected in the very near future that Customs and Immigration will recommence giving Power Point presentations to all new, incoming officers to help enlighten them on the yachting industry.
Dealing with the concern about piracy in T&T waters, Jesse James reiterated what he said previously in the May 2016, issue of Compass: “In December 2015, there were two instances of piracy in Trinidad’s waters, when Venezuelans boarded and robbed the yachts. One occurred the week before Christmas  and the other the week after, and this news went like wildfire world wide. It caused a big fallout, but the Coast Guard, the North Post Radio Station, YSATT, Customs, Immigration and an Air Guard helicopter got quickly into the act to monitor and escort other yachts coming from the west into Chaguaramas. They are all very proactive about preventing further piracy in Trinidad’s waters. And so the problem disappeared.”
But apparently this wildfire, which was extinguished over two and a half years ago, has reignited up islands, to the detriment of Trinidad & Tobago. It didn’t help when a recent report to the yachts’ popular Caribbean Safety & Security Net was erroneously labeled “attempted piracy” when nothing of the sort actually happened. CSSN quickly rectified the misleading designation, but not before fuel was added to the fire. The misconception persists. Cruisers docking at Chaguaramas have said that on checking out from some ports up the islands to sail to Trinidad they have been warned about “the piracy problem” in T&T waters. The unfounded incident has been recycled on social media.
Visiting yachts can be assured that the T&T Coast Guard patrols T&T waters 24/7. Cruisers coming into Trinidad from Grenada have reported seeing the Coast Guard on patrol.
One of the security protocols that has been established among the T&T Coast Guard, North Post Radio and YSATT is for boats to file a “float plan”, which allows the boats to be observed, whether in transit to or from Trinidad. The float plan can be found on Jesse James website, www.membersonlymaxitaxi.com.
Pointing out the differences between T&T’s yachting industry and that of the islands to the north, Tommy reminded us that “the islands around us have a lot of sand and sea… [but] through the energy sector we are much more commercialized”, so that the product T&T has to offer is different. T&T also has a reputation for world-class yacht repairs and maintenance workers, and is out of the hurricane belt.
And what of the vexatious rumours of piracy? The fact is that since the beginning of 2016, there have been over 3,000 crossings between Grenada and Trinidad by both local and foreign leisure craft, with no mishaps whatsoever.
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