Cruisers and charterers in the eastern Caribbean
this season can breath a sigh of relief, at least for now. Most all of the destination
islands have suspended enforcement of the onerous Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) requirements. Normal clearance procedures remain, but the extra layer of APIS electronic "paperwork" has been suspended.
Here's an article on the subject from the Caribbean Compass
. Editor Sally Erdle has been on top of this important issue, working on behalf of the yachting community.
Caribbean Compass, December, 2007
In early 2007, ten member states of the Caribbean Economic Community, CARICOM, passed legislation requiring Advance Passenger Information to be transmitted to CARICOM’s Joint Regional Communication Centre in Barbados
Red Tape for Yachts Comes and Goes
for ALL air and sea carriers — including yachts — arriving at, and departing from each member
state. By registering on a website, the masters of said “air and sea carriers” are to find and fill out a detailed form which asks for information such as passengers’ names, nationalities and passport numbers, and the vessel or aircraft’s dates and exact times of departure and arrival.
The form can be submitted electronically or by printing it out and faxing it. Although this Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) was supposed to go into effect on February 1st, 2007, the first anyone in the yachting community heard about it was in August, when yacht skippers clearing out of Antigua began complaining about being asked, unexpectedly, to go to an Internet café to fill out a new and complex Immigration form on line. At that point, only Antigua had begun to ask yachts to comply with APIS regulations.
The difficulties that the average recreational sailor has with the API system as it stands have been well documented, with yacht skippers reportedly struggling for anything up to four hours to access the website (Caricom > HOME) and figure out how to complete he form — often while paying for the time at an Internet Café. Clearance procedures were also significantly lengthened if APIS was required. Yacht tourism is recognized as being the second-most economically important form of tourism in the Eastern Caribbean, behind hotels but ahead of cruise ships. Anyone with knowledge of yacht tourism knew that this kind of time-consuming red tape could quickly strangle it to death. Due to the efforts of the Caribbean Marine Association (CMA) in general, and the Antigua & Barbuda Marine Trades Association in particular, Antigua & Barbuda soon recognized the potential damage APIS could do to its valuable yacht tourism sector and in October dropped any mention of APIS for yachts of less than 100 net tons.
But like the arcade game “Whack-A-Mole”, in which plastic mole figures pop up from their holes at random, also in October St. Vincent & the Grenadines — like Antigua, with no prior consultation or announcement — unexpectedly began asking yacht skippers to comply with APIS. Enforcement was sporadic: Immigration officers at some SVG ports of entry were more understanding than others of visitors’ unsuccessful on-line attempts to comply; at times officers required “proof” of compliance in the form of a stamped print-out from an Internet café or a fax transmission report. (Notwithstanding that you can print out an on-line form without ever having submitted it electronically, and a fax transmission report doesn’t indicate what document was actually sent.) Numerous yacht owners have told Compass they began by-passing St. Vincent & the Grenadines or would do so. Others no doubt came here but avoided clearing in or out, taking the risk that their papers would not be checked and costing the SVG government their entry fees.
The St. Vincent & the Grenadines Recreational Marine Trades Association wrote to the relevant Ministers of Government on November 1st concerning the APIS legislation, stating: “This Association obviously would like to see our yachting industry continue its sustainable growth. The [API] legislation currently being only marginally and sporadically enforced has nothing other than negative connotations in this regard. We applaud the most recent debate on the creation of [CARICOM] single space initiatives… however it will be some time before this becomes a reality, if it happens. In the interim all that we and the CMA are asking for is for the formal suspension of compliance with [APIS for yachts] so that we are, at worst, in the same situation as our Caricom neighbours.” On November 21st, SVG’s Chief Immigration Officer told Compass that the APIS requirement for yachts has been temporarily suspended in St. Vincent & the Grenadines, pending review.
But we still seem to being playing Whack-a-Mole: we’ve just learned that yachts clearing out of Barbados in November were asked to fill out APIS forms. Trinidad & Tobago’s APIS legislation lapsed at the end of June 2007. The remaining CARICOM countries involved — Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, St. Lucia, Grenada and Guyana — never enforced APIS compliance for yachts, but at least some of these countries still have the laws on the books.
The Caribbean Marine Association and its national-level member associations have promised to work with their individual Governments until a practical solution has been achieved.
Editor’s note: The St. Lucia Ministry of Tourism contact given in last month’s
Compass is incorrect. You can send comments regarding the effect APIS would have on your experience of St. Lucia to firstname.lastname@example.org.