Advance Passenger Information for Yachts or Not?
On August 11th, Penny Tyas wrote to yachtbuddy.com: "This morning a cruising yachtsman who arrived in [Antigua] waters some two weeks ago for repairs and relaxation, went to clear out prior to his departure tomorrow for islands south. Customs clearance went according to plan, but he was informed that he would have to come back in the afternoon to clear Immigration, and he was given a form to complete.
"This afternoon he presented himself with all his documentation and the completed form, but then learned that the form was no longer sufficient, and since July 31st it has become a requirement to complete an Advance Passenger Information System form on-line.
"The frustrated Captain was left no choice but to arrange to go back a third time to Immigration in order to get the required clearance to leave the country."
Other visiting yacht skippers reported similar experiences in Antigua. One of them mentioned the website address he'd been given - www.caricomeapis.org - where the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) filing requirements can be found.
Via the website, Compass contacted the Joint Regional Communications Centre (JRCC) of the Caribbean Common Market (CARICOM) in Barbados. We were told: "Legislation has been passed which provides for an obligation for Advance Passenger Information to be transmitted to the ten participating Member States for ALL air and sea carriers arriving at, and departing from each Member State." Participating CARICOM member states are Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, St. Kitts & Nevis, Dominica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada, Trinidad & Tobago and Guyana. These countries became collectively known as a "Single Domestic Space" during the Cricket World Cup matches held in the Caribbean earlier this year.
By registering on the website, the masters of said air and sea carriers find and fill out a detailed form which asks for information such as passengers' names, nationalities and passport numbers, and the vessel or aircraft's dates and times (in hours and minutes) of departure and arrival.
The JRCC tells us that the form can be submitted by filling it in on-line using the XLS format available on the website, by creating an XML file (using their XML schema) and sending it as an e-mail attachment (to [email protected]), or by filling in the on-line form and faxing it (to 246 228-4040). The fax option is to be used in the event of failure or unavailability of electronic equipment.
Submissions must be made according to a strict timetable relevant to times of departure and/or arrival, with different advance times depending on whether you are arriving in, departing from, or traveling within the CARICOM Single Domestic Space.
Or first thoughts were, "Yachtspeople are tourists - are they really going to made to jump through such complicated bureaucratic hoops when visiting the Caribbean?" And, if so, "This is bad news for the yacht tourism industry."
The Problems With Yachts
It's a challenge to facilitate yacht tourism in a single cruising area with a dozen national borders, but the introduction of single-page Customs and Immigration clearance forms in many CARICOM countries, such as Grenada and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, have made yacht clearance a breeze. But filing Advance Passenger Information (API) is not going to be plain sailing for yachts. Unlike commercial aircraft and cruiseships, it's virtually impossible for the average yacht - especially a sailing yacht - to state with any accuracy the time in hours, much less minutes, when it will arrive in port.
Sailing between the islands, depending on wind, currents and sea states encountered once underway, the prudent small boat skipper will often elect to tuck into an intermediate harbor and wait for better conditions before proceeding to his destination, sometimes waiting days for a suitable "weather window". Sailing northward in the Grenadines, for example, we've waited a couple of days in the Tobago Cays for near gale-force reinforced northerly tradewinds to abate. If, like the Cays, one's intermediate "harbor of refuge" does not have the facilities required to submit a revised API form, what to do?
Unlike mega-yachts which might have high-speed internet connection gear aboard, the average private yachtsman is dependent on seeking out shoreside internet cafés or finding good anchorage WiFi. The majority of private yacht owners are going to look at the required on-line time as onerous - even when the internet is up and running well, never mind when it's got the hiccups. [For example, in Bequia, a major port of entry and departure for yachts, on the morning of September 21st, 2007, the internet was completely down for some three hours.]
Bareboats, of course, do not come with laptops aboard and vacationers aren't going to take precious hours out of a ten-day, three-country cruise through the Windwards or Leewards to pay to sit at an internet café every couple of days and transmit forms. (Think, there are over 700 bareboats in Martinique, all wanting to cross two of the affected national borders just to visit the Grenadines.) These boaters would no doubt phone or radio the charter company's base to say, for example "We're leaving Soufriere sometime tomorrow bound for Bequia, but if the wind is light we might stop in Wallilabou overnight." and ask the base personnel to attempt to file accurate API forms for them.
Pondering the logistical nightmare that API for yachts would represent, we had another look at the on-line form. It has room for 1,000 passenger names. Do non-professionals know the "5 Letter Port Code" for their vessel's last port of call? Surely, we thought, this is meant for cruise ships and airlines!
We phoned back to the JRCC to ask whether yachts were, in fact, included in the requirement to file API. We hoped to hear that recreational vessels, at least, were exempt, but were told that "ALL sea carriers" (emphasis theirs) should indeed include yachts. We were also told that JRCC believes that all ten CARICOM countries involved should currently be requiring yachts to transmit Advance Passenger Information.
This was puzzling. The Advance Passenger Information System supposedly went into effect in CARICOM countries from February 1, 2007. But so far, we'd only heard of yachts being asked to supply API when leaving Antigua, nowhere else. We phoned the head Immigration office in one of the other CARICOM countries listed, and were told that although they were aware of the APIS, they were not requiring yachts to comply, at least not for the time being, because "the system is not yet fully operational". Immigration personnel at another office told us they were unaware of such legislation. Yachting concerns in another CARICOM country reported that "There has been no announcement here about these measures." And from yet another country, a yacht-businessman reported: "Immigration here is actually very good at understanding the potential problems and needs of the yachting sector. What we're definitely trying to avoid is the confusion currently being experienced in Antigua."
A Little History
APIS was developed by the former US Customs Service in 1988, in cooperation with the former US Immigration and Naturalization Service and the airline industry. At that time, participation was voluntary.
In October, 2001, the United Nations Security Council, "reaffirming its unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist acts that took place in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania on 11 September", adopted Resolution 1373: "a wide-ranging, comprehensive resolution with steps and strategies to combat international terrorism". (According to www.un.org, the Resolution was passed in a night meeting which began at 10:50PM and adjourned at 10:53PM!) The Resolution states: "States should prevent the movement of terrorists or their groups by effective border controls" and "take the necessary steps to prevent the commission of terrorist acts, including by provision of early warning to other States by exchange of information". Resolution 1373 urged, but did not require, UN member states to take measures to counter terrorism. Even those countries with a negligible threat of attacks adopted new anti-terrorism legislation.
Beginning in October, 2005, all commercial vessels regardless of size or flag were required to file advance notices of arrival electronically when arriving in the United States. A rule posted in the Federal Register made the electronic forms (e-NOA/D, or Electronic Notice Of Arrival/Departure) mandatory for commercial passenger vessels, including charter yachts.
The "Revised Notice of Arrival/Departure" requirements came into force in the CARICOM states on January 1st, 2007, with an interim period until February 1st. The intention was to provide a secure Single Domestic Space for the duration of the Cricket World Cup 2007, when matches were held in several different islands from February to May, and to facilitate the resultant travel of exceptionally large numbers of people between the islands. Although Cricket World Cup 2007 is long gone, Diane Hazzard of CARICOM's JRCC, writes, "Please be advised that [although the] obligation for submission of Advance Passenger Information was introduced during Cricket World Cup [it] remains in effect as this is not a sunset legislation."
Implementation Caribbean Style?
Concerned about the possible effect of this massive new coil of red tape on the Eastern Caribbean's yacht-tourism industry, we spoke with the President of the Caribbean Marine Association, Keats Compton. The Caribbean Marine Association brings together representatives of national recreational marine trade associations throughout the region.
After speaking with Keats, it is our understanding that although these ten CARICOM states have agreed to require API from "ALL air and sea carriers", it is now up to the Parliament of each of these individual sovereign countries to pass the relevant legislation to make it their national law. Could this be the reason that requiring API from yachts has only raised its head in Antigua? And could the other countries still have time to fine-tune their own legislation to protect the yachting sector of their economies?
One option would be to exempt non-commercial vessels. If the US - the main terrorist target, but not a country that relies heavily on yacht tourism - exempted yachts that are not carrying passengers for hire in its 2005 legislation, could CARICOM countries not at least do the same?
But the commercial charter trade is also a vital part of the yacht tourism sector. When, starting in October, 2005, it was required that all passenger-carrying commercial vessels traveling between US and foreign waters transmit information about passengers and crew to Homeland Security before departure and return, the US Virgin Islands' yacht charter industry was thrown into turmoil. Their usual destinations were in the British Virgins. Representatives of the marine recreation industry in the USVI met with members of the US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs and Border Protection and island government officials to discuss the burden that e-NOA/D placed on charter yachts and other businesses, such as dive shops, that travel between the USVI and BVI. Some yacht charter clearing houses responded by offering "e-NOA/D service" to their clients. USVI Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen told the media, "we continue to press for relief from the regulations impacting our charter boats and charter yacht operators."
Due to Congresswoman Christensen's efforts, in 2006 an amendment was passed which required the Secretary of Homeland Security to study and report back to Congress on the impact of the Advance Passenger Information System on charter boat operators in the territory. Although the Department of Homeland Security ultimately rejected the granting of a waiver for the USVI, advance notice requirements there were eased in consideration of the territory's yachting industry. For example, the 24-hour notice was reduced to one hour to allow charter boats to accept last-minute bookings.
Even better for CARICOM than exempting non-commercial vessels from API, as the US has done, would be to exempt all vessels with less than a certain tonnage, providing relief to the sub-region's important charter yacht trade.
Currently, API is required for vessels when moving within the CARICOM Single Domestic Space, as well as when arriving at and departing from the CARICOM Single Domestic Space. Wouldn't the concept of a Single Domestic Space, as well as the tourism sector, be better served if visiting yachts only had to file electronic API to their first port of entry in CARICOM and from their final port of departure? The beauty of electronic submission is that the information is computerized and therefore easily exchangeable between authorities in all CARICOM countries: the information would be at hand when yachts did their normal national clearances.
In any case, now that CARICOM citizens are increasingly required to have machine-readable passports, the time must be at hand when all CARICOM ports of entry will have passport-reading machines. This should enable Immigration officers to easily forward passenger data to the JRCC electronically when a yacht clears out, potentially eliminating the need for the visitors themselves to do so.
Interestingly, the ferries shuttling large numbers of passengers back and forth daily between the USVI and BVI were granted exemption from API filing, although commercial yachts were not. According to USVI Port Authority Chief Director William Westman, as quoted in Caribbean Net News, "The ferry boat operators in the northeast US carried thousands of commuters each day back and forth to work in Canada. That group had a strong lobby support system in place to advocate for their interests." In the end, is getting an exemption merely a case of having a sufficiently strong lobby system?
Risk Assessment: War on Terrorism or War on Tourism?
According to US Customs and Border Protection, information obtained via the APIS "will be used to perform counterterrorism, law enforcement, and public security queries to identify risks to the aircraft or vessel, to its occupants, or to the United States." The APIS is being applied in the Caribbean largely for the benefit of the United States, as a good neighbor policy, as unarguably there could be anti-US terrorists found anywhere.
On the other hand, anti-Caribbean terrorism is practically unheard of. According to the US Government Accountability Office, although security at Caribbean commercial port facilities (through which goods bound for US ports and cruise ships carrying US citizens travel) may be a concern, "intelligence sources report that no specific, credible terrorist threats to maritime security exist in the Caribbean Basin". How great, then, are the potential terrorism and public security threats presented by yachts to either the countries of CARICOM or to the US? In contrast, what is the economic value to CARICOM of yachts' ease of movement between its member states?
Will anyone check to see that the names given on the API form are really the people, and only those people, aboard a departing or arriving yacht? Even assuming a terrorist participates in API and uses his real identity, if a name raises a red flag at JRCC, who is responsible for preventing the yacht from leaving port with that person aboard or detaining the suspect at the next port? If a yacht skipper hasn't been able to file an API for some reason, will he be tempted to not clear in at the next island? Odds are, nobody will check; most CARICOM countries' law enforcement services are already stretched too thin by the war on drugs to make sure that all yachties have done their paperwork. There are thousands of yachts sailing from country to country in the Eastern Caribbean. What would the direct (not to mention indirect) cost of enforcing their API compliance be to small island nations?
In summary, demanding API from yachts in the Eastern Caribbean is unlikely to help the war on terror, strict enforcement and thorough follow-up would be an additional burden on law-enforcement agencies in the countries involved, and it is quite likely to harm the sub-region's valuable yacht-tourism industry,
As Penny Tyas wrote from Antigua, "How is it that in a country relying so heavily on tourism, a large part of which is wrapped up in the yachting industry, there is so little effort put in by government bodies to relieve the pressures of bureaucracy? How can we continue to promote Antigua as a superior yachting destination when Captains are confronted by bureaucratic procedures that cannot be anticipated or investigated and cannot be practically upheld? If a person cannot even leave the country without bureaucratic headaches, how can we possibly persuade him to return?"
See related commentary by Chris Doyle on page 19.
[Editor's note: As mentioned in this month's Info & Updates (see page 5), as this issue of Compass was ready to go to press, we received news that CARICOM officials will be meeting shortly with members of the Caribbean Marine Association to discuss the needs of the yachting community regarding APIS.]
Copyright© 2023 Compass Publishing