Organised by Caribbean French Customs and sponsored by the Universite des Antilies et de la Guyane (university of the French West Indies) the International Yachting Seminar was held on 30th/31st May and 1st June 2012 in Martinique.
As well as representatives from the Caribbean Marine Association (CMA) there were attendees from French Customs, French Naval and marine safety units and French yachting interests. Also attending were the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States), Customs officers from Antigua & Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines. CCLEC (Caribbean Customs Law Enforcement Council) were also in attendance.
In addition to the CMA, there were private sector yachting representatives from Grenada, Guadeloupe, Martinique, St. Barts, St. Martin, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad & Tobago.
The agenda was very wide ranging, perhaps a little too wide ranging. Divided into four half day sessions the respective parts of the seminar were titled 1. - Regulations relating to Yachting. 2. - Yachting Security and Safety. 3. - Taxes and fees relating to yachting activities. 4. - Yachting and economic development. Maybe, yachting security and safety was a little out of step with the more economically inclined subjects of the other sessions.
At each session, four or five presentations were made on subjects relating to the session heading although the speakers tended not to limit themselves strictly to the topic under discussion. For each session two representatives were selected, one French speaking and one English speaking, to prepare summaries for the final session on Day 3.
Full details of the report of the seminar will be published in due course on the CMA website however, it was notable that three of the four summaries commenced their report with some form of recommendation for a simplified, harmonised, web based pre-arrival notification system for yachts.
Moderator for the seminar was Jean-Claude Garric from French Customs and all presentations were simultaneously translated into either English or French. As yachting is more predominant in the English speaking islands most of the French contribution tended to relate to security however, there were contributions on yachting from Ernest Brin, Port Director, Gustavia, St. Barths, Glenn Jean-Joseph, Manager of Le Marin, Martinique's large marina and from Yvonne Tritz who made an impassioned speech on the necessity to develop yachting in Martinique and the other French islands. Douglas Rapier (Martinique) gave an expose on the superyacht segment of the market.
St Lucia's Assistant Comptroller of Customs, Albert Sandy, gave a very enlightened speech on behalf of CCLEC promoting the need for regional harmonisation of clearance procedures. On behalf of the CMA, President, John Duffy (Antigua & Barbuda), spoke on the development of the CMA and difficulties yachts encountered with the bureaucratic procedures in some islands. Robbie Ferron (St. Maarten) confirmed that most yachts see the Caribbean as a single area, multiple and varying clearance procedures being a hindrance to visiting yachts.
CMA Vice-president, Bob Hathaway (St. Lucia) presented an analysis of marina fees within the OECS and adjacent English speaking countries. His report was surprising in the range of fees charged and the distribution of the high and low cost marinas, sometimes quite contrary to expectations. On behalf of the OECS, Dr Lorraine Nicholas confirmed the OECS's desire to work with CCLEC to produce a uniform electronic clearance system throughout the wider Caribbean.
Summary 1 related to regulations dealing with requirements for clearance. The recommendations suggested the setting up of a small steering committee of interested parties to produce a plan for an electronic system which covers the needs of Customs, Immigration and Port Authority plus, provides data and statistics which can be used by both the public (tourism) and private sectors in the promotion of Caribbean yachting. Any system should also include an ability for fees to be paid on-line by yachts. As CCLEC represents 38 Caribbean nations, the steering committee should be co-ordinated by CCLEC.
Summary 2, yachting security and safety, dealt solely with the subject and mainly concentrated on better communications with yachts to enable easier and swifter responses in the case of emergency however, there was some overlap with security in respect of criminal activities including drug trafficking and even piracy. Within this summary was a recommendation that officials, authorities and communities be made more aware of being welcoming to yachting visitors and that regional customer service awards should be considered.
Summary 3 dealt with taxes and fees relating to yachting activities. Again harmonisation and simplification was highlighted. It was felt that there ought to be an 'inventory' and update of yachting related regulations, taxes, services and fees. Also, together with bench marking, there should be a uniformity in yacht measurement and a definition of what is a yacht. More information should be shared between countries by the public sector and, where associations do not exist, the private sector should form marine associations and work with other associations in other territories through the CMA.
Summary 4, which revolved around the economic development of yachting, yet again placed an on-line electronic pre-clearance system as its top priority. Also stressed was the need for marine associations to communicate and interact with governmental bodies and tourism authorities. In addition, the differing market segments needed to be recognised together with the urgent necessity to produce useable economic impact statistics and the need for each territory to identify its segment of the market. It was universally agreed that regional meetings similar to the seminar needed to be held annually
The meeting concluded with thanks from the Université des Antilies et de la Guyane to the participants for attending and both the university and French Customs were thanked for organising and conducting the seminar which was unanimously seen as having been beneficial.
What is now needed is to convert the good intentions into actions and, ultimately, into products and services which benefit yachting tourism and the economies of all the countries in the Leeward and Windward Island chain.
John J Duffy - President, Caribbean Marine Association.