The apparent neglect of the concerns of the yachting industry in this pandemic has emerged as another instance in which a potentially significant contributor to the country’s foreign exchange earnings continues to be ignored.
Successive administrations had to have been persuaded for the need for appreciation of the value to our economy of this industry. It has remained largely unnoticed even now how significant this industry can be to the creation of jobs, as well as to the country’s reputation as a destination by interests in this type of adventure and activity.
Where progress has noticeably been made, and momentum has been building, this has been compromised by the apparent lack of sensitivity being shown by the authorities in the operation of the border controls made necessary in the pandemic-induced lockdowns. This regime has been in place for much of the last nine months, and counting.
Members of the Yachting Association have now been moved to bring to light current issues negatively impacting some of their colleagues. This industry has escaped generalised public focus for as long as maritime operations continued to meet the needs of those concerned. It is well-known, however, that being generally situated outside the hurricane belt, some of this country’s coastlines offer safe haven for sea-going people. This is most notably manifest in the waters off Chaguaramas. As a consequence of this, such locales have come to serve as safe haven for others threatened by storm devastation in the more northerly Caribbean islands.
One positive consequence of this is that foreign-owned yachts are moored for long-term safekeeping in Trinidad’s protected harbours and shorelines.
Despite years of agitation and activism by industry insiders as well as others who identify prospects and potential increased alternative economic activity, this is a sector which is as yet far from approaching maximum potential. With this being borne in mind, Yachting Association members are now reporting what they see as the total decline and fall of an industry, as a result of the official closure of our borders.
They decry the consequent loss of foreign exchange and of incomes by “several thousands” of families. The local yacht servicing industry has been valued as uniquely important in the Caribbean region, being the source of highly skilled professional operatives. One implication of the Covid-related barriers to air and sea access is that foreign owners are unable to get to their vessels parked here. According to the Yachting Association, “there have been no reported infection or transmission of Covid-19 in the Caribbean yachting community”. Still, boat owners have been unable to receive the necessary exemptions to enter T&T borders.
This is unlike what operates in Grenada and St Lucia, where mandatory testing and quarantining aboard vessels or in other regulated places have permitted yachting services operations in those locations. This now represents active competition against local interests. “A whole season has been missed for thousands of dependent workers in the sector,” the association claims.
Not for lack of knowledge and understanding of the situation, officials appear more preoccupied with conceivably larger issues. In the meantime, a small industry that earns valued foreign exchange remains starved for respectful attention.