Yachting industry faces Covid closure

T&T’s YACHTING industry is on the brink of collapse due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Yacht Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago noted that the industry was already on the decline within the last few years, and the situation has now been exacerbated as no foreign yachts are allowed to enter T&T waters due to the closure of borders.

Board member of the association, Jesse James, told Express Business the situation is a dire one as both the Peake’s and Power Boats marinas are usually filled to capacity during the hurricane season… but now marinas are like a ghost town due to the pandemic.

James hastened to explain that YSATT fully understands the Health Ministry protocols that are in place and the National Security Ministry’s position of keeping the borders closed in order to manage the virus.

But he said the association would have preferred some kind of exemption for at least 200 foreign yachts that would have liked to haul out their boats in Chaguaramas as the hurricane season is upon us.

“We had rolled out a proposal to the Chief Medical Officer, Immigration Services and Coast Guard, on how we were going to manage the intake of yachts coming in and they were going to be in quarantine on their boats at Chacachacare Island, which can easily hold up to 100 boats at a time. While in quarantine they would take two Covid-19 tests and also take their temperature every day which will be submitted to YSATT who will be sharing their progress with health ministry officials. The cruisers are also willing to pay for their test,” said James

The YSATT board member, breaking it down into dollars and cents, said if the Government facilitates the yachts that want to shelter in T&T waters during the hurricane season for five months, the economy can earn approximately US$6.3 million.

James said the industry has lost close to 300 yachts coming into T&T waters for the hurricane season as Antigua, St Lucia and Grenada have facilitates for yachts. The governments of those islands have provided exemptions for foreign yachts to shelter in their waters during the 2020 hurricane season.

“We not asking for the opening up of the borders, but just for some form of facilitation to get our customers here so the workers can at least get back to work…we don’t want handouts or hampers…we just want to get our industry going again so employment can start back up,” James said.

Giving a clearer picture of how important the yachting industry is to the T&T economy, James said there are about 180 companies throughout Trinidad that cater to the yachting industry, with approximately 140 of those located in Chaguaramas. Altogether there are eight boatyards/marinas that provide approximately 470 in-water berths, as well as accommodation for approximately 1,000 yachts on land.

He noted that over 17,000 persons are employed full-time in the industry and it is estimated that the yachting sector contributes approximately US$12 million (about $80 million) annually to the economy.

James said with no yachts able to sail because of the pandemic over the last five months, the industry is literally holding on to a string.

“Several marinas and yachting services had to let go some of their staff and are forced to operate with bare minimum employees in order to try and survive, as there is only about 40 to 50 yachts in Chaguaramas since Covid-19 struck.”

He added that back in June, before Parliament dissolved, Attorney General Faris Al Rawi passed a bill enabling yachties to use a single harmonised form, which was supposed to eliminate the bureaucracy of having them fill out 16 forms.

“The association is very grateful that the bill was passed and it’s just for it to be made law by the President, because we have been clamouring for 15 years for these several forms to be made into one form, just like the other islands have done. These 16 forms that the yachties have to fill out before gaining entry into our waters have also contributed significantly to the decline in boat arrivals.”

The YSATT director outlined that back in 2000-2002, in the peak season, there used to be about 2,800 yachts in T&T, but since the recession in the US back in 2008 along with piracy on the waters, the numbers dropped to 800 yachts a year.

James is hopeful that things can turn around when Covid eases up and he said the YSATT is willing to work with the Government in using the industry to help diversify the economy. The promotion of T&T as a vibrant centre for yachts would also help with the shortage of foreign exchange that country continues to face, James said.

Express Business visited the Ministry of Trade and Industry website which noted that the ministry in collaboration with both the private and public sectors has prepared a Yachting Policy, 2017 – 2021.

Overall, the goal of the policy is to improve the economic contribution of the yachting industry through increased foreign exchange earnings, increased employment and more business activity in the form of yachting related services. The specific objectives of the policy are to:

• Improve and expand Trinidad and Tobago’s yachting product;

• Reform and strengthen the legal and regulatory framework;

• Improve the human resource and technical capacity in the yachting industry; and

• Improve the environmental and social sustainability of the yachting industry.

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