From latitude 38 1/17/14:
The Dreadful Impoundment Fiasco In Mexico Endures
January 17, 2014 – Selected Marinas
Despite the fervent wishes of almost everyone, most of the 338 foreign owned boats impounded in eight Mexican marinas
as a result of AGACE actions in late November are still impounded. The sad fact is that most of these boats have been absolutely legal
A couple of days ago, an insider in the marine
industry in Mexico told us that our catamaran
Profligate, which is on the list of impounded boats, was all good and didn't have any problems with AGACE. So when the AGACE agents came to our marina yesterday, Dona de Mallorca asked them about the boat's status. The pleasant AGACE agent looked into the files and said, "There are no problems with your boat."
"Great," said de Mallorca, "she's free to go?"
"No," replied the AGACE agent, "she's still impounded." He refused to say why or when she'll be released. It's our understanding that there are 47 other fully compliant boats in our marina in the same preposterous situation.
This is not good, Mexico. Not good at all.
Last night a boat owner with a boat impounded in a Baja
marina called our office and asked what we thought of her and her husband leaving in the middle of the night on their boat and trying to flee back to freedom in the United States. She said that the impoundment of their boat had destroyed their cruising dream. They just wanted to get back to the States and sell their boat. She said there was another boat impounded in the same marina whose owner was also done with cruising before he started because of the ruthless actions of AGACE.
Our advice was to hang tight. Some impounded boats have been released, and it appears that many more will be soon. If someone gets caught trying to escape back to the United States — and we're told that some have already been successful — you could find yourself in big trouble in a country where you don't speak the language and the law is slow and murky. And if they did flee, they should probably be very hesitant to ever return to Mexico by boat — although it's unlikely either of these owners will ever want to do that again.
As infuriating as this horrible episode has been, we'd also encourage these owners not to give up their cruising dreams just yet. The impounding of boats in Mexico has been the biggest national nautical brain fart that we can recall
— and we've been publishing Latitude for 36 years. The self-destructive stupidity of the process is simply unprecedented.
It's worth noting that three of the owner/mangers of the largest marinas in Mexico, two of whose marinas have been hit by AGACE, and one whose marina has not, said they believe it's extremely unlikely there will be any similar raids until AGACE's policies and procedures have been completely revamped. They all cite the same reason: the terrible damage to Mexico's international reputation, particularly in the nautical tourism sector.
Just so everyone's clear, we have no problem whatsoever with Mexico making sure that all boats have the necessary papers, that nobody is cheating on taxes
, and that none of the boats are stolen. But currently there are severe impediments. One is that the laws are very unclear. For example, we asked the manager of one of the biggest port-of-entry marinas in Mexico whether zarpes from the US are required. He said he didn't know that part of Mexican law. If he didn't, how is a first-time visitor to Mexico supposed to know? And we bet 99% of people — including port captains — don't know the law either. According to Neil Shroyer of Marina de La Paz
, who tends to be an expert on such things, you either need a zarpe from the US — or a notarized letter stating, under penalty of perjury, that you came from the US. Not that we've ever been asked for either in all the years we've come to Mexico.
As much as we support Mexico's goals of collecting taxes
owed and apprehending stolen boats, the fact remains that these goals could have been quickly and easily achieved without the need for armed marines, the threats to marine
businesses, boats being impounded, boat owners feeling compelled to flee the country, and tens of millions of dollars worth of negative publicity being rained down on Mexico. All it would have taken is for AGACE to announce that they were going to be at such and such a marina on such and such a day to make sure all boats were compliant by producing documents A through H, and that either the owner or his authorized representative needed to be on site to facilitate the process. And that when found to be in compliance, each boat would be given a sticker. It could have been so easy instead of so draconian.
One thing that's become clear from our conversations with marina managers and owners, is that AGACE procedures and policies were different depending on where the AGACE agents came from and what marinas they were visiting. The marinas in Ensenada were visited by agents from Tijuana; the marinas at Los Cabos and San Carlos
were visited by agents from Mexico City; the marinas in the Vallarta area were visited by agents from Zupopan/Guadalajara. In some places, agents never even bothered looking at or going on boats, they just wanted to check the paperwork. In other places, if you weren't on your boat when they visited to show them around, your boat was as good as impounded.
It doesn't help that Mexican law is so vague and so few people know or understand it. For example, a small but vocal group out of the Vallarta YC have made the claim that each boat owner is responsible for making sure that the office of the marina he's in has a copy of all his paperwork. Leaving aside the question of how a boat owner can possibly be held responsible for the doings of the marina office, the manager of one of the biggest and glossiest marinas in Mexico emphatically insisted that his marina is under no legal
obligation to have anyone's documents. Mind you, he's had very little problem with AGACE.
There has also been the question of whether not having a TIP is like a fix-it ticket in the United States. The owner of one marina says you have up to 10 days to get one after being found without one, and there is no fine. The manager of another marina says he can't find that in law. But as a practical matter, the manager of yet a third marina said that boats that didn't have TIPs in his marina were able to get them within 10 days, and they didn't even end up on the impound list!
Mexican also has a nagging problem with requiring things that are impossible to do. For example, in the early days of getting a TIP online, the software
program prompted the TIP applicant to identify what kind of boat they had. But the program only listed the names of a few powerboats. So applicants were left to either select the name of a boat they didn't own, or not get a TIP. Such problems are rife throughout the Mexican bureaucracy. Here's another example: We recently bought a car in Arizona and legally imported it into Mexico. The final two steps in the process are going to Tepic to get a document transferred from Nogales so we could pick up the license
plates in Mezcales. Mexican law says we have seven days from the time we crossed the border to the time we put the plates on the car. Well, it's been about three weeks now, and Nogales still hasn't gotten the papers to Tepic — about 200 miles from where we are — so we can take them to Mezcales to get the plates. Whose fault is it that we are illegal and have to go around with 200 pesos notes in our pockets in case we're stopped for 'driving while gringo'?
Want more? Tax laws were dramatically changed in Mexico as of the first of the year, so the Mexican IRS has been holding meetings all over the country to explain them. Those who have been to the meetings say people left with more questions than they had before the meeting. The one thing they did come away with is that everybody who has any kind of business, or rents any rooms in their residence, has to have a Mexican IRS identity number and keep records of all debits and credits. The identity number can only be obtained on the Mexican IRS website. Alas, the website doesn't work.
The truth is that Mexico is going to have to get its laws and bureaucracy together before it can emerge from the Third World. And until it gets those acts together, it is in its own best interest to refrain from coming down so hard on so many innocent people — particularly we nautical tourists, who are typically among the country's best ambassadors. Mexico needs to release all compliant boats immediately, and then start the long road back to making amends with foreign boat owners and investors.
- latitude / richard