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Old 18-08-2008, 18:21   #1
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Paperwork and Problems in Ecuador

I figured I'd sit down and write out some of the problems I am having in Ecuador with the authorities here. This is so anyone planning a visit knows there are still problems here although mine are mostly due to the long amount of time my boat has been here. If you aren't planning a visit, this probably won't interest you.

I arrived in Ecuador on Dosia in December 2006 and pulled the boat for dry storage in Puerto Lucia Yacht Club. After traveling through South America for 3 months I returned to the boat and planned on leaving for French Polynesia but, as many of you know, I had to return to the states for a divorce. I came back to Ecuador on July 9th of this year to find that many laws governing boats had changed while I was gone. Other cruisers in the club immediately approached me with various stories of long delays and huge fines and advised me to start the paperwork process ASAP.

The first hurdle in this process was a change in the law for the amount of time a boat can stay in Ecuador. Apparently this was unregulated or at least, not enforced before. Now the time limit is somewhere between 3 and 8 months depending on who you ask. Customs in Guayaquil says 8 months, customs in La Libertad says 6 months, and the US Consulate who I just got off the phone with said 3 months. I have no idea what the actual law is. Because my boat had been here 19 months there were three things I had to complete:

- a letter of proof (letters from stateside lawyers and doctors in my case) saying why your boat was here so long

- a personal letter of reasoning translated into spanish and notarized stating why the boat overstayed it's limit

- a fine

I started the process of collecting and writing out the paperwork almost 5 weeks ago and turned everything into customs 4 weeks ago. It took two weeks for them to schedule an inspection of the boat. This involved a customs rep and a rep of the port captain coming aboard, searching, and then interviewing you for an hour trying to find out if you had any major work done on the boat while in Ecuador. I had been forewarned to tell them bottom paint was the only thing I had done. Then they take about 100 digital photos of the boat and inform you that you will owe tons of money in fees. You pay for their cab fares which somehow costs them $10 when it would cost me $2. Over a week later, I was told by Puerto Lucia my customs paperwork was ready and I could go pick it up. I went over there prepared to battle it out over the "multa" (fine) but they never mentioned it and passed me my paperwork. This allowed me to start the process of obtaining my zarpe from the port captain. That was on a Friday.

The following Monday, the office girl here in Puerto Lucia told me my customs paperwork had been canceled for not paying the associated fine. I returned to the Customs Office and discovered my fine was only $26.28. The only reason for this is the work that Jeremy on Unity , a long term resident of Puerto Lucia, did with a custom's lawyer in Guayaquil when customs requested a fine of several thousand dollars for overstaying on his boat. Customs now knows that cruisers from Puerto Lucia have someone telling them how much the actual fine should be. I paid the fine and figured it was done.

The second hurdle I'm now facing is a new computer system that was enacted while I was away last year. All vessels coming and going from Ecuador now have to be entered into this computer system. Because Dosia arrived before the system existed, she isn't in there and they are unable to give me a zarpe till she has been entered into the system. There is one guy in the entire country, a Captain Moreno, in Guayaquil who has the ability to override the system and place my boat into it. The port captain's office here in Salinas, the office at Puerto Lucia, and I personally spent all last week trying to contact this guy with no luck. He is either in a meeting, unavailable, or not in the office.
I have been told by the port capitan's office in Salinas that I will owe them $250-300 for lights and buoys during the time I was gone although there is no such law on the books for yachts. The total cost should be around $45 and that's it. Because I can't get the zarpe, I don't yet know how much of the fine I will have to pay. Meanwhile I'm paying for every night I'm staying in Puerto Lucia waiting on this and all the fruits and veggies we loaded on the boat are getting older.

This morning, the girls in the office informed me that customs called and because it's been two weeks since my inspection, the paperwork is no longer good and I have to be reinspected, pay another fine, and basically start all over. I called the US Consulate this morning for help. I figure 4 weeks of fighting to leave a country legally is grounds for calling in some government help. I'm also putting in calls to the Ecuadorian embassy in the US and the US Coast Guard. Jeremy says the Coast Guard conducts many training exercises here and has contacts high up in the Navy/Armada. I am extremely tempted to leave this country without a zarpe and take my chances in the Marquesas but I've been told there are serious consequences if the Ecuadorian Coast Guard catches me before I'm out of their waters and they just got 5 new boats patrolling the coast.

I don't believe the hassles are near as bad for anyone visiting Ecuador for a short while but I would never store my boat here for over 3 months again. The officials are extremely corrupt and according to management here at the marina, there isn't one person in the government who cares at all about the problems of international yachts. Puerto Lucia has done a good bit of work helping me, but all this work is done by the office girls and none of the male government officials seem to have an ounce of respect for them. I can't help but feel this club, which is very ritzy by Ecuadorian standards, could do more to help it's paying clients.

I am basically forcing one of the male managers of the marina to join me and my wallet at the port captain office in 15 minutes. We'll see just how many $20's it will take to get this problem solved once and for all.

Hopefully this helps someone else out!

Drew
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Old 18-08-2008, 18:47   #2
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I am sorry to hear corruption seems to be all over Ecuador, typical for Latin American countries and the rest of the third world, if those corrupts officer just knew the price of the very well deserved bad image yoour post creates about Ecuador they wouldn't act like that if they really care about their country.

Hopefully you will be out from those waters and thanks for the advice I won't visit not even one day, I think this level of corruption has nothing to do with your stay lenght, next thing they are going to ask for to give you a Zarpe is for a recent mandarin language certificate, I am sure the Port Captain takes care of all of his business on some barstand.

Good luck, let us know once your recover your liberty from that corrupted part of the world.
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Old 18-08-2008, 19:46   #3
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Splash the boat and leave. (at night) Legal or not.
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Old 18-08-2008, 21:30   #4
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So, an update after my visit to the port captain this afternoon.
I went in with one of the managers of the marina and we approached one of the lackeys who knew immediately who I was and what boat I was from although I've only been in there once and never caused a ruckus. Through the translation from the manager I found out that I'm now (this one is brand new) required to travel 3 hours to Guayaquil tomorrow where I put in an application to have a "safety inspection" done on the boat. Then I come back here and sit and wait for the application to be approved and the visit to be scheduled. I went straight to the actual port captain's office door and told his secretary I wanted to speak with him personally and I was told to wait 10 minutes. A half hour later that lackey comes out of the port captain's door saying the same thing about the safety inspection again. I caught the eye of the port captain in his office and with hands clasped in a symbolic begging position, I pleaded with him for a moment of his time. He literally SLAMMED the door in my face.

An hour later, back at the docks, I convinced the office girls to supply me with a copy of the zarpe given to a spanish boat that pulled out this morning headed for Peru. I figured I'd create my own zarpe, leave around midnight, and head for the relative safety of Peruvian waters. I talked with George Stewart (who runs his own boatworks company as a private contractor of Puerto Lucia) and Jeremy from Unity once again who both warned me of the new coast guard boats and the threat that, if caught, Dosia would be impounded. So, using my better judgement I decided against pulling out in the cover of darkness. She is literally everything I have and I can't lose her!

I placed multiple calls to the USCG, the US Consulate, and the State Department who all seemed happy to help me get out of the country but couldn't seem to do anything for poor Dosia.

On my way back to the boat, I stopped by George's house to let him know where I stood and it just so happened an officer in the Ecuadorian Navy was there so we posed a few questions to him and he made some calls. It seems the port captain does have the right under some obscure Ecuadorian law to request a safety inspection of any boat over 10 gross tons. From what this officer, George, and now Jeremy say, I am the FIRST boat ever requested to pass this inspection. It seems the new laws of Ecuador have left the port captain short each month because he can't as easily extort bribe money out of the cruisers here. I think this is just a way to show they are pissed off about it.

I do know I have to pay for the inspection, yet I have no idea how much it will be, when it could possibly occur, or even what the requirements of the inspection are. They could easily come on here and tell me I need all kinds of things like a halon system or a man overboard pole. I simply have no idea. I was under the impression that by international law, international yachts were required only to pass the safety standards of the country they are registered in. I would really like some help from anyone who has knowledge of international maritime law or can point me to somewhere on the net I can print out a document that could possibly help me!
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Old 18-08-2008, 22:24   #5
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You're right. The port captain does not have the right, under international law, to impose Ecuadorian safety standards on a foreign flagged yacht. Equipment that is required to be carried is strictly up to your flag state. But he probably can _inspect_ your boat to see if you are up to date on US safety equipment requirements. Probably he just wants to charge yet another fee for the inspection.

Why don't you go for a little daysail during the evening, and just happen to drift into international waters... 12 miles out and you're home free. I doubt their CG is that interested in pursuing some small yacht.
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Old 19-08-2008, 04:42   #6
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I feel for you. The day sail might very well work as you can say you're checking out your equipment to make sure you can pass the "Safety Inspection".

Good Luck
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Old 19-08-2008, 05:47   #7
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a) Hire someone to get pictures of the B@$turd with his mistress
b) Find out who his boss is and bribe him
c) Tell his barmates that the guy doesn't have enough cajones to clear the boat and he is just a puppet of the "real" power in Guayaquil
d) Go out into the night and bribe anyone who shows up in a cg boat

Welcome to the 3rd world...

I sincerely hope your troubles end soon.
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Old 19-08-2008, 06:16   #8
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What if you just "left?"
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Old 19-08-2008, 07:25   #9
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I believe there are quite a few Ecuadorian yacht owners in Salinas, have you met any of them and explained your case? You may be able to find some one with good "contacts" who can help you or at least give you some good advice.
Good Luck!
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Old 19-08-2008, 19:52   #10
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Ok, spent all day in Guayaquil. I started at the office of DIGMER who controls all of the port captains in the country, moved onto a Maritime Lawyer, and then returned to the DIGMER office for several hours this afternoon.

I spent most of my time dealing with one guy who seemed sympathetic to my story but unable to do anything. It took over an hour and two calls to the port captain in Salinas (Mata) for him to even understand why a safety inspection was being requested for such a small yacht. I went around and around in circles trying to wiggle my way out of the safety inspection to no avail. He kept disappearing upstairs and coming back down with the same story....nothing he could do about it. The biggest question I posed to this guy was "Why me?" Why am I the first boat to ever be required to complete a safety inspection for a zarpe? After a couple of hours, I was unable to get any of the important info I needed out of this guy. What is the cost of the inspection, when will it occur, and what is needed to pass? I assumed that I was in the wrong office and took off just before lunch to a lawyer's office.

I found it by googling 'maritime law guayaquil' and picked the first one I saw. Carlos Alberto Gomez Hidalgo was really great and sat down with me for about 15 minutes, looked at the paperwork, and called a friend of a friend to discuss my situation. Same story, I wasn't getting out of this inspection. I asked him whether I would benefit from hunting down this Moreno guy and he replied that Moreno was best left alone because if I pissed him off, he'd make it even more difficult for me to leave. He said they helped lots of private yachts from the Salinas yacht club and the last time the safety inspection came up on a 60' boat, it cost $800 dollars. He also said I'd been sitting in the correct office all morning and that I should go back, fill out the application, and see how much they wanted.

I returned to the office, filled out the application, and the lady asked for a total of $569.59 for the safety inspection on my 36' boat! I pretty much lost it at this time and told them I didn't even have that much in my bank account back in the states. I went back into the office with the guy I'd been with all morning and after another 30 minutes of sob stories and drama, he escorted me upstairs directly into the office of Captain Moreno himself.

He wasn't a bad guy at all and showed me the books detailing the costs of the inspection which didn't really do me much good but at least gave me a chance to create a rapport with the guy and I finally got him to pick up the phone and call Mata in Salinas. Without a doubt the one thing I asked that made the most difference was "Why am I being asked to complete a safety inspection when no other boat at Puerto Lucia or Puerto Amistad have ever been asked this before?" He looked at me puzzled and said, "you know Drew...you are right." And off we went upstairs to the 4TH FLOOR! We arrived at the office of a guy whose name I believe is Monteverde but I am not positive. He is some sort of elder, retired officer who is well respected and still considered the boss. Moreno disappeared into his office and 5 minutes later they both emerged. Monteverde asked me a couple of questions. (where are you from?, you are sailing all the way to the marquesas?, are you sailing alone?) and with a smile he looked at Moreno and said "OK" Moreno grabbed me by the arm and whisked me back downstairs saying "now you have no problem." He said he would call Mata in Salinas and take care of the problem. I would only have to complete a small, free inspection by the local captain's office and that would be it.

So basically I ended up pulling rank on Mata in Salinas who, it appears, created this whole problem for me from the beginning. I still have to complete the inspection and get the zarpe from this guy who i have probably pissed off but at least i made some headway and avoided a $600 inspection. We'll see what kind of delay they create for me but Jeremy said tonight that Mata would probably be "really helpful" now so we'll see. I'll be sitting at his office door when he arrives in the morning.

5 weeks of paperwork and counting...


Drew
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Old 19-08-2008, 19:58   #11
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you did the right think and I am sure you'll be out of there in no time.
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Old 19-08-2008, 20:17   #12
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Sounds like real progress Drew. Well done.

I hope your nightmare ends soon...

(You know it is not so different in many places here. I can almost visualize all these meetings in my mind)
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Old 19-08-2008, 20:23   #13
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Sometimes I think they just do this kind of stuff for sport, because they can.
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Old 19-08-2008, 23:28   #14
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And they have NO IDEA how many people read this, and then say "WELL. I guess I'll leave Ecuador off my list!". And then, when no one visits and drops cash there, they wonder why!
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Old 20-08-2008, 12:52   #15
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I just returned from the Port Captain's office in Salinas where I stood for 3 hours outside Captain Mata's door with a look of determination on my face. When I first arrived this morning, I had the sergeant try to issue me a zarpe once again with no luck. He could go through the entire process on the computer to the very last step of printing and an error message would pop up telling him that I needed a safety inspection completed before a zarpe could be issued. Seems Captain Moreno and Mr. Monteverde had given the vocal okay but no one changed it in the system.

After several hours, Mata finally called me into his office and greeted me with a "jesus christ what now?" i explained the situation and he got on his phone and called guayaquil. Before long he was on both his cell and his office phone talking with the people at the DIGMER office, walking them through the whole problem we were having with the computer system. Of course, by the time I finally got to see Mata, it was lunch time so anyone in Guayaquil who could help was at lunch. Now I'm headed back to the Salinas port captain's office in an hour to see if we can finally get someone on the phone to fix this.

Sorry to post these stupid updates, but I know I would have loved all this info before this happened to me and I hope someone else finds it useful!

Drew
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