Recently we printed an article by Lesley Grimminck, long time and highly respected president of the Bundaberg Cruising Yacht Club, (of Port2Port Rally fame), about the faulty way in which Australia greets international cruising sailors wishing to stop here on their way around the world.
Port2Port - returning Australian yachties celebrate
We received a flurry of responses to this article, divided equally between those who agreed and those who didn't. While Sail-World does not usually act as a forum, here below we print Lesley's original article, and two of the responses that represent a divided opinion on the issue. Do YOU have anything to add?
Lesley Grimmink's original statement:
Australia is no longer the favourite South Pacific destination of the blue water cruiser.
The current rules applied by the Australian Government Authorities are discouraging yachts from visiting this country. It has been well reported in many media outlets that Australia charges excessive fees and applies restrictive rules for arriving yachts with the goal posts constantly being moved.
International and returning Australian yachts are currently charged $330 ($618 for arrival on weekends) for entry into Australia. The income received would not nearly cover the cost of the administration of such fees.
Now the yachts are choosing to avoid Australia altogether and spend the cyclone season in New Zealand with Australia losing the income from repairs, overhauls, restocking, tourism and the general living expenses of these cruising visitors. This has been estimated per yacht between $36,000 & $50,000 per year and these amounts applied to the industry could see $25 million stripped from our economy.
Looking at the issues, it is easy to see how the rules could be changed to allow us the opportunity to welcome these visitors back to Australia.
The Australian Quarantine Inspection Service funds its own services through fee charges. Thus the bureaucrats are always looking for ways to increase the income. Yet the cost to implement the service does not pay for the service. Australian Customs is funded by taxpayers and no charges are applied to the yachts. It would be a simple exercise to let 'Border Security' take control to administer the yacht’s arrivals, check immigration requirements and confiscate those items which are deemed to risk Australia’s bio-security. Thus avoiding double handling and letting these visitors spend their dollars in our country.
Australian Customs currently require 96 hours notice of a yacht’s arrival in Australia. Heavy fines apply to all non-compliants. This simple act of control has the blue water cruisers in fear of coming to Australia, mainly due to the horror stories of fines and court cases relayed through the grapevine. These visitors are not refugees seeking asylum. They are generally independently funded adventurers. If they 'forgot' or simply 'did not know' or in some cases could not believe that such a rule exists, they could be let off with a warning. First time: a warning. Second time: a fine.
Every yacht arriving in Australia is deemed at high risk if it has spent more than 3 months in the Pacific and contains more than 10% in the fitout. That is pretty much all of them. Yet profiling could show that only some specific types of yachts (i.e. age, general condition & hull construction) have been proven to carry termites. Australian yachts are required to undergo immediate termite inspection on arrival. Yet International yachts do not require termite inspection until they have remained in Australia for over 12 months. Can termites tell the difference?
Visas are granted to visitors proposing to visit Australia as per regulations. These are generally for 6 months, 12 months or several years. Yet they all contain a multi-entry condition. Yachts can stay but not the owners or crew. They must depart the country every 6 months. Customs will accept a quick dash across the Pacific to New Zealand in a 747 jet, returning the next day as fulfilling the requirements. This rule was put in place to deter the yachties from working and any quick exit would interrupt their work program. Yet it is very simple to fly out on a Saturday and back on a Sunday, just like a weekend excursion. While they are in NZ or South-East Asia, they often have a holiday and come back 4 weeks later. More income we have lost from tourism. Even the refugees can stay longer than 6 months without the multi-entry condition applying.
Solution: Create a specific 12 month visa for yachts without specific multi-entry requirements.
The Bundaberg Cruising Yacht Club is offering to refund the Australian Quarantine Entry fees (to $330) to all yachts who register with the Port2Port 2011 Yacht Rally and arrive in Bundaberg during October and November 2011.
To learn more about the Port2Port 2011 Yacht Rally, www.bcyc.net.au!click_here.
Reply received from Matthew Holliday:
Bram and Magda of Saluut, who had an infamous experience in 2007 when the visiting Dutch sailors were fined for not informing Australia in a timely fashion of their impending arrival
As a broker actively involved in assisting overseas-flagged cruising yachts to enter Australia by sea, I noticed a number of errors in the content of this article. I also take exception to the notion that cruising yachts 'avoid Australia' on account of our draconian and expensive rules.
Quarantine fees are reasonable, and along with customs operate an efficient and friendly service to visiting yachties. Information regarding arrivals procedures is widely and freely available on the internet, and meeting the obligations is neither onerous nor expensive. Any cruising yacht captain visiting a new country must always avail themselves of the regulations, which are different for every country I have sailed to. It is not a good enough excuse to say 'I didn't know'.
Visas for visitors to Australia are completely separate from control permits issued to yachts, as any experienced cruising sailor would know when clearing in to a 'new' country. To suggest that cruising sailors should be allowed longer visas than arrivals, say, by air is nonsense. And to include refugees in the discussion is specious at best.
Contrary to the article international yachts are required to meet pest requirements on arrival, which may result in dog inspection, thermal imaging, or fumigation according to an assessment made by Quarantine. The
'12 month' statement is wrong.
But don't take my word for it - here's an extract from a cruising forum, written by a recent arrival...
'Having just gone through this process three months ago, this is what happens:
You arrive at an Australian port having come from an international harbour. The cost of entry is $330 for customs. You can pay on credit card. They will ask how much you spent to get from your last international port to Australia... The costs are minimal since you are stuck at sea eating soggy biscuits, so just calculate a few hundred dollars in food...
There is then a $139 charge for AQIS to do an inspection of the boat. They will come onboard, take photos, ask where you sailed, and then pass the information on to an entomologist. If there is wood onboard, chances are you will be asked for a termite inspection. Thankfully the termi-dog is no longer the only option... As it is super $$. If you are required to do a termite inspection, you can call around and get any pest control company that does thermal imaging (for houses etc) to come by the boat and do the work. It is about $180-280 for that. Hopefully there are no termites, otherwise the boat must be chemically 'bombed' at great expense and you wouldn't ever want to eat off your plates again...'
Leslie Grimmick needs to do her homework, and I suggest you forward her article to customs / quarantine for clarification.
Australia remains a safe, affordable and friendly destination for most cruising sailors crossing the Pacific. But it is important to find out what the rules are, and to obey them. (New Zealand has far more draconian Cat 1 rules concerning departing yachts)
This letter was forwarded to Lesley Grimminck for reply, which she declined to do. However, another international cruiser commented in this way:
The broker strikes me as the 'ostrich' type with his head in the sand....only sees what he wants to see.
Yes, it is true that 90+% of cruisers will have no problem but the occasional inconsistency in applying the regulations is enough to generate the stories that then get exaggerated in the yachtie community.
'Quarantine fees are reasonable'.....gimme a break! They are an obvious money grab with no logic or science behind them. No other country charges them. And the whole pest control inspection is nonsense. We have spent the last 8 months with the 'sword of Damocles' hanging over our heads....waiting for the missive from AQIS saying we are required to have our boat inspected for termites....a steel boat no less...and all because a young fellow, very personable, but who wouldn't know a termite from a red ant looked at our interior and declared he would have to 'alert Brisbane' that we are a risk for termites! And if they contacted us after being in the country...what are the chances we got the hypothetical termites here?
Yes, visas are separate from control or cruising permits and all countries have their own version. Yes, it is up to the skipper to investigate and do the paperwork. The point is, do you want to make it easier for cruisers to come to Australia? Do you want to encourage them to come here, stay here, spend money here? Well, design your visa policy accordingly! We arrive at the beginning of cyclone season and have to leave for cruising season! We should not be compared to tourists arriving on a plane.
Yes, cruising yachts avoid Australia....due to fact or perception? Does it matter? We met people who had no intention of running the gauntlet here.
Seems to me, whether it's true or not, work has to be done to change the perception out there. Nothing is black and white....but where there is smoke, there is fire.....and there seems to be a fair amount of smoke coming out of Australia related to cruising yachts.
We look at all the fancy, half empty marinas along the coast here and the pathetic restrictions put on someone interested in selling their boat in Australia and I have to wonder what this Matthew guy is thinking. Seems to me it would be in his interests to have more foreign boats and less onerous regulations around selling them!
Maybe he is just short sighted or has another agenda or just does not like anyone saying anything negative about Australia, true or not!
I am not sure where 'the truth' lies....usually somewhere in the middle.....personally we did not have a bad experience with customs, we resented paying the AQIS fees and did not appreciate being threatened with the cost and hassle of inspections.
But when you travel, as you know, you have to respect the local customs, whether you agree with them or understand them or not, unless you are American of course, then you can rant and rave about how everyone else is wrong....:)...just kidding....
I think the point is that you are in battle to change the perception. Just like the policeman who sees everyone as a potential criminal, maybe the customs officials have become more like policemen these days. Maybe they need to be educated to handle situations differently and have a clearer understanding of where their powers end? Why should I be paranoid about them knowing my opinion?
Doesn't make sense but I am....implies I don't trust them...and that is from the stories I've read and heard and the 'perception' of them applying the law inconsistently.
No easy answers but overall I did not think Matthew's response was very well thought out or written. It was a reaction to what Lesley wrote.
From Terry McCarroll, Virgo's Child:
Having spent the last eleven years sailing our yacht around the world and visiting over 44 different countries we have never paid for paid for quarantine inspections. Sure we have paid for cruising permits in several countries but generally we have been made very welcome in every country at minimal or no cost. Lesley Grimmick is right. We are driving foreign yachties away with our regulations and costs.
So it seems, whether deserved or not, Australia does have a negative image in the eyes of cruising sailors crossing the Pacific. There is no greater information chain than that which binds all roving cruising sailors together, so it is word-of-mouth, rather than stated regulations which will convince any intending cruising sailor of what to expect on arrival in our country.
Maybe the community of international cruising sailors is still smarting from the experience of Dutch sailors Bram and Magda(pictured above) who arrived here back in 2006. http://www.thecoastalpassage.com/brutal_customs.html!Read_their_story