ATTORNEY GENERAL Faris Al-Rawi has given a public undertaking that foreign yacht owners who store their vessels in Trinidad and Tobago and come here for repairs will get travel exemptions.
Since T&T closed its borders in March 2020, travel exemptions have been denied to them by the Ministry of National Security (MNS).
“I wish to give right now a very public undertaking that I will ensure the conversation with the Ministry of National Security happens immediately and that we will get this thing done and I will report back to you.
“I will get it done,” Al-Rawi said at a virtual post-budget discussion on Wednesday evening hosted by the Confederation of Business Chambers.
His response came after a member of the Yacht Services Industry of T&T (YSAATT) posed a question on their concerns in the chat section.
“I think Covid did a tragic amount of damage to the yachting industry and they certainly deserve significant focus. It is obvious that we ought to make the best of the fact that we are a ‘safe harbour’, in terms of the hurricane belt, and that the yachting industry is a significant forex earner,” said Al-Rawi.
Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon, a panellist, said the yachting industry and all its related services on the north-western peninsula, like small hotels and the retail sector, have been undergoing a “slow death” and the national security ministry’s ban has been the “only hiccup” to its reopening.
She said the Government is well aware the industry brings in foreign exchange and creates jobs.
She said the YSATT has written to her ministry, the Ministry of Health and every other minister, pleading for help.
She said she has been lobbying Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds and will keep at it.
“I have put it in writing and I have also spoken to the minister and I’m going to keep at it with him.”
Gopee-Scoon also promised the Government is prepared to dip into its pockets to help the industry get back on stream.
She said she has already spoken to Mark Edghill, head of the T&T Coalition of Services Industries, which has also been lobbying for help for the sector.
“I have already spoken to Mark Edghill to see if all interested parties can meet soon enough in terms of securing the capital push you need to get you back on stream.
“I’m telling you that we’re all ears and that I’m going to be prepared to look in our pockets and find whatever you need for us to get back on our feet again.”
Gopee-Scoon noted the Government also has interests in the industry since its acquisition of CL Marine Ltd and its subsidiaries, which was announced in September 2020. CL Marine operates a commercial drydocking and ship repair facility in Chaguaramas.
She said what happened during the pandemic was very unfortunate for the sector.
“I understand the dilemma you all were faced with.
“We understand very well the asset that we have in the peninsula, in terms of the capital, the ability to dry dock and repair small pleasure craft, and all the attendant pluses that would come with it like foreign exchange earnings, retail services, small hotels and job creation.
“So, we understand the almost slow death that you felt you were in.
“We value the sector, we understand the benefits to employment and we really do feel the pain that you have endured for the last two years or so.”
She said the Government has been cautiously reopening the economy and more sectors would be restarted on October 11.
By 2022, or maybe even before that, a full reopening of the economy is expected.
The YSATT has stated there have been no reported cases of Covid-19 in the yachting community in the Caribbean. They said many yachts owned by international customers are in storage in Trinidad.
In an earlier release, the YSATT said, “These customers are being barred from entry to return to their property, as well as those who would like to sail to Trinidad to conduct much-needed work and repairs.”