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Old 28-03-2013, 14:52   #1
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Extortion in Nassau

Three Sheets suffered engine failure when we reached Nassau. After working with Marine Diesel, the local Nassau Yanmar shop, and discussing options with insurance re...garding the claim, it was decided that we needed to bring Three Sheets back to the states so that all parties could participate in determining cause of failure. Based on their requirements for towing, Seaworthy contracted Towboat US Fort Lauderdale to bring us home. As was standard practice upon arrival, the tow vessel contacted Port Authority for permission to enter the harbor to collect us and bring us home that Sunday morning. They were granted permission and were on route to our marina to clear customs, when the proverbial "**** hit the fan."

Three Sheets was prepped and ready to go when we received a call on the VHF from our towboat captain indicating someone had filed some type of complaint and customs had called them back to the dock to the Department of Immigration. We barely took in the bad news when we heard a loud knock on our boat, jarring us back to reality. We went outside to find a Bahamian man, wearing what appeared to be a government shirt from Bahamas Air and Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) and a women escorted by marina security. He identified himself as Captain Ian Gilbert of ABC Yacht Services.

Gilbert said our towboat was breaking the law and that we needed to give him a deposit immediately to tow our vessel. We explained it wasn't our call and that it was up to our insurance company to secure the tow vessel based on their requirements. Somewhat forcefully, clearly trying to intimidate us, he said we should just pay him and submit the claim to insurance for payment. Of course we didn't agree.

Gilbert then contacted our insurance directly, without our permission and before we could notify them of the recent issue. He somehow managed to get an agent on the phone and we overheard him tell her that the only way Three Sheets was leaving Nassau was under his tow. He quoted $125/mile which would work out to nearly $15,000 just to get us to Bimini (international waters). Clear and simple extortion. We became frightened of him asked them to leave immediately and security escorted them out. Much later we found out that BASRA is not a government program, but rather a volunteer association that has no authority. But he clearly knew his credentials would get him past security and intimidate us.

We called our tow captain who said it was a "work permit" policy issue and recommended we meet him at Immigration with a local boater that would help us out of the harbor. We thought if we could at least hire a local for a portion, it would make the Department of Immigration happy.

We found a local boater from our marina to bring us to the Immigration dock and speak on our behalf with Captain Neely from the Department of Immigration. Captain Neely said that if insurance wouldn't hire ABC (the extortionist), they probably wouldn't approve our local guys, so he would not allow us to leave without approval from the Director of Immigration. Of course since it was Sunday, it had to wait until Monday, essentially making us hostages in their country. Seaworthy approved our towboat to stay another day. Personally (and admittedly naively), I was glad to meet with the Director because I wanted to report the extortion.

Monday morning we arrived at the office of the Director, Mr. William Platt. As soon as we walked into the room and saw his scowl, I knew it was already decided. But we tried anyway. First, he would barely acknowledge our tow captain and began questioning Mike on the issue. Mike, of course respectfully, answered his questions on the events as they happened. Platt then began asking questions such as, "How much is your vessel worth?" and "How much was your contracted tow?" When he asked about hiring local, Mike explained that no local towers met specifications required by our insurance company.

I then tentatively broached the subject of ABC Yachts and how they scared us at our dock. This immediately angered the Director, but at me, not at ABC. He began yelling at me, asking how they were intimidating and basically implying I was lying. It was also clear he did not want to be addressed directly by a woman as he dismissed my concerns and began discussing again with Mike. Mike explained the ABC fees were exorbitant, to which Platt responded, "Why do you care if insurance is paying?" He then took our contact information and said he would get back to Mike with a decision. While we waited for a cab in the parking lot, Ian Gilbert of ABC arrived at the building and we knew Platt's decision would not be in our favor. Our fears were confirmed when the tow captain called us and said he'd been given 24 hours to leave the country. Of course Director Platt did not have the courtesy to respond directly to Mike as promised.

So there we were, guilty of nothing, stuck in Nassau feeling like hostages in a third-world country. That is not the Bahamas we had dreamt about during our ten years of planning. We could have simply returned home and fixed our boat and gone back to the Bahamas to travel some more. Instead, their Immigration Department made it crystal clear that we are not welcome by their disgusting treatment of us. Almost a week later, we had to "escape" the Bahamas by securing a local tow from our marina out of the harbor, only after they confirmed with their attorneys that they could help. We then raised the sails and sailed Three Sheets for 30 hours straight until we reached international waters. Only then could we get secure a tow into Fort Lauderdale. Mike and I are incredibly lucky that the winds held for safe passage.

For anyone traveling to the Bahamas, I'd recommend staying away from Nassau at the very least. If you plan on working or hiring in the Bahamas, I'd watch the issue of work permits very closely at www.tribune242.com. There's mention of denial of permits for any non-bahamian charter vessels, including fishing boats. This could get very ugly in a short space of time.
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Old 28-03-2013, 15:00   #2
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

I'm sure you have contacted BoatUS directly--I think they would be very interested in this.
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Old 28-03-2013, 15:18   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kettlewell View Post
I'm sure you have contacted BoatUS directly--I think they would be very interested in this.
Yes, they are very aware of the issue. Thanks for the tip though.
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Old 28-03-2013, 15:38   #4
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

Did you contact the US Consulate in Nassau about any of this? I suspect Consular Officials might have been helpful as might the Bahama's Tourism Authority. Note, however, that a Bahamian boat disabled in Miami might have had some difficulty having a BASRA boat drop in to collect them without some advance arrangements with local HSA authorities, No? As for the extortion charge, yep, $125/mile is rather off the charts so that certainly sticks. But, truthfully, if I were BoatUS, considering the number of US Yachts traversing the Islands, you can be sure I'd have arrangements with local towing companies to cover my members. Both the yachtsmen/women and the Bahamian's would benefit by such an arrangement.
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Old 28-03-2013, 15:52   #5
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

Not to pile on, but to think that you can take a commercial boat from another country and bring it into a different country and start a commercial job without work permits is naive. The solution you ended up with, sail the boat to international waters, seems like the most reasonable one in this case. Too bad you had to go through the distress with immigration before reaching this approach. Good luck on the engine claim and repair.
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:00   #6
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

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Not to pile on, but to think that you can take a commercial boat from another country and bring it into a different country and start a commercial job without work permits is naive. The solution you ended up with, sail the boat to international waters, seems like the most reasonable one in this case. Too bad you had to go through the distress with immigration before reaching this approach. Good luck on the engine claim and repair.

I pretty much agree with this. Basically a foreign country contractor was coming into to another country and take work away for business. I believe almost any country would be protecting their local business over a foreign country's contractor.
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:09   #7
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

Well the fees and charges you report do sound extortionate but I do think there could be a point about work permits. There is the same issue pretty much anywhere, including right here in the US. What do you think the USCG or US Immigration, etc would say about a Bahamian company operating in the US without any sort of license, work permits, US valid insurance, etc. For a smaller country that may already feel pushed around by the large country next neighbor I think this issue may be even more sensitive.

Their perception that you or your insurance company were trying to circumvent local regulations could have set the stage for an angry response by the Bahamians. Perhaps a seriously overblown reaction but maybe with some cause.

I do have to ask, why get a tow anyway? I would much rather sail in open water than deal with a tow. In my opinion safer and easier and certainly avoids a lot of red tape.
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:12   #8
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

Could you have lashed the dinghy and motored out using dinghy on the side to get to sailing waters?
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:14   #9
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

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I do have to ask, why get a tow anyway? I would much rather sail in open water than deal with a tow. In my opinion safer and easier and certainly avoids a lot of red tape.
In the past others in a similar situation in Nassau have enlisted the help of a cruising friend to tow them out of the harbor, and then sail in company back to the USA in order to make sure nothing went wrong. If it goes calm, one sailboat can tow another pretty well--I have done it for two days straight before. Once you get close to a Florida harbor you can have a U.S. towing company bring you the rest of the way in.
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:19   #10
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

It might be too late, but what about using your dingy at the hip to get clear of the harbour and then sailing across the bank?

You could arrange with tow boat to meet you if that made you feel more comfortable....

I know you are on a 44' boat, but even the 8hp I have on the 42' boat I am sailing will work to move me away from the greedy pirates you describe...

Best of luck to you, sorry to hear of your misfortune..
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:20   #11
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Could you have lashed the dinghy and motored out using dinghy on the side to get to sailing waters?
Too funny! I was typing my post at the same time... Not sure that is a complement to you though.

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Old 28-03-2013, 16:22   #12
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

I'll take anything as a compliment:-)
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:22   #13
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

Was my first thought while reading the story
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:23   #14
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Re: Extortion in Nassau

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In the past others in a similar situation in Nassau have enlisted the help of a cruising friend to tow them out of the harbor, and then sail in company back to the USA in order to make sure nothing went wrong. If it goes calm, one sailboat can tow another pretty well--I have done it for two days straight before. Once you get close to a Florida harbor you can have a U.S. towing company bring you the rest of the way in.
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Old 28-03-2013, 16:23   #15
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Certainly we always prefer to sail butWe didn't have a weather window at the time to get out any other way. In the end, we did sail back after he marina towed us out of harbor.

Our insurance looked for local towers and finding none that met requirements, bid through normal channels and selected TowBoatUS.

I agree with permit policies that favor the county in question. That was never the issue. But if appropriate labor can't be found locally (for example a company assuming liability for the tow), then alternatives should be considered. An innocent parties should not be penalized. In this case, it was more than clear that they specifically wanted us to hire ABC at the exorbitant rate. We asked repeatedly for a list of other tow companies registered in Nassau and they would not provide it.
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