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
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
. 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!