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How to ruin a yachting destination. Mexico keeps yachts impounded

by Sail-World Cruising round-up on 11 Jan 2014
It looks peaceful enough, but some of these yachts, owned by cruising retirees from the USA and Canada, have been impounded by authorities for more than a month, and can’t get information on how to get ’un-impounded’ .. .
How to ruin a yachting destination - and it's still going on! A month ago, we published a story about how Mexican government tax agents had made unannounced visits to a number of marinas and, unbelievably to the foreign cruisers, mostly American and Canadian retirees, IMPOUNDED their yachts, because 'their papers were not in order'. It was apparently 'some kind of mistake' but a full month later, the boats are still impounded.

The boat owners involved, whose holiday plans have been rudely disrupted, cannot leave Mexico, and, worse, are left without any idea of how to remedy the situation.

According to one of the boat owners, Richard Spindler, editor of sailing magazine Latitude 38, 'Officials from various Mexican agencies, such as Tourism, were hoping that AGACE, a subdivision of Hacienda (the Mexican IRS) which mistakenly created the fiasco, would be able to resolve the situation by Christmas or at least the beginning of the New Year. They didn’t succeed.'

After inspecting more than 1,600 vessels in late November, the Mexican government's Treasury Department announced it had initiated seizure orders against 338 boats it accused of lacking a $70 permit. The office says it has four months to decide whether to release the boards or sell them at auction.

Many of the boat owners were not even present when the authorities came by. Undaunted, the officials impounded their boats anyway. Others say minor numerical errors in paperwork were used as grounds for seizure.

Apparently, it is all part of a new effort by President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration to increase government revenues in a country with one of the worst tax-collection rates among the world's large economies. The push has drawn howls of protest from Mexicans upset about new sales taxes and levies on home sales. But few of the new measures were as unexpected or toughly enforced as what foreign pleasure boat owners call a heavy-handed crackdown over a minor permit, and they say it threatens a tourism sector Mexico has long sought to promote.

'They brought all these marines, with machine guns and stuff, and they kind of descended on the marina and everybody's going, 'Wow, there's a big narco thing going down here,' said Spindler, whose catamaran Profligate was impounded near Puerto Vallarta. 'These are just retired people, 50-, 60-year-old retired people, mellow people. It was way over the top.'

The document in question, known as a Temporary Import Permit, can be obtained from a Mexican government website and proves holders own their boats and promise not to leave them in Mexico or sell them here.

One boater said marina operators warned that anyone who tried to leave would be hunted down. The owner, who expressed fear that speaking out by name could bring reprisals, said officials had given no written notice of seizure on their boat, and they had learned of it second hand from marina workers.

'This is killing nautical tourism in a worse way than drug trafficking, because it's the government itself that is taking the yachts,' said Enrique Fernandez, a member of Mexico's Association of Marinas.

A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, Mark C. Johnson, said in an email that U.S. officials are holding discussions on the issue with the Mexican government. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development said it knows of three Canadians whose boats were seized.

Spindler, who has been sailing to Mexico for 36 years and publishes the sailing magazine Latitude 38, estimated that about 45 of the 53 boats at the marina where his boat was seized are owned by Americans or Canadians.

'Mexico wants and greatly supports nautical tourism,' he said, but warned that the heavy-handed approach could put the sailing sector at risk.

'The bottom line is that a lot of boat owners, boat businesses, boat workers, and a wonderful destination country are suffering for the blundering of one new sub-agency of the Mexican IRS.'
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