Saturday, August 19, 2006

Armed Boardings (not us, thank God!)

August 19, 2006     Saturday
Chaguaramas, Trinidad
In the past 3 weeks there have been 2 armed boardings of cruisers boats.   The cruisers held a security meeting about a month ago, which resulted in a nightly dinghy watch -- sort of like a neighborhood watch back home.  Someone is awake in the anchorage and looking for "bad guys" each night.  They take 2-hour shifts to make certain that someone is on duty all night, every night.  We do not think this is a great idea because one of these vigilantes is likely to get hurt or in trouble with the local laws if they try to apprehend any wrongdoer.  After all, we are in a foreign country.

The first incident was quite a distance from us; the guy had anchored as close as possible to the airport so he was just off the largest city of Port of Spain.  He was boarded well after midnight by 3 men carrying pistols.  The boat owner claims to have fended them off with belaying pins and knives.  We think he probably had his own gun (which would be quite illegal; you are supposed to declare any guns onboard to Customs when you check into the country and they take them away from you).  But maybe he really did fight off 3 guys with guns by using knives; sounds doubtful to us.  Anyway, no one on the boat was injured enough to require any medical care.

A couple of nights ago there was another armed boarding, this time here in the Chaguaramas anchorage.  We are in Chaguaramas Harbor docked at a marina.  We are far less vulnerable than the boats that are on anchor or mooring balls out in the harbor.  Our marina has a security guard 24/7; there is no guard or police protection whatsoever out in the anchorage.  A Norweigian vessel was boarded about 3:00 a.m. by 3 men armed with guns.  These men had the same physical description of the 3 men who had boarded the vessel near Port of Spain a few weeks ago.  The dinghy description used to approach both vessels was identical.

There also was the armed robbery of 2 cruisers in a maxi-taxi last month, plus several physical assaults and robberies of people walking along roadsides.  So cruisers here are in an uproar.  Several plan to leave as soon as they can complete various boat work projects, which will be in violation of the insurance requirement to stay below lattitude 10 degrees 50 minutes North.

Bill contacted the US Embassy here in Trinidad.  The Foreign Service Officer wants to become involved.  He has asked Bill to assist in arranging a Wardens' Meeting regarding both the issue of immigration difficulties and the issue of crime locally.   Bill will be making announcements on the VHF net each morning next week, and we hope there will be a good turn-out of cruisers.  We believe that the only solution to this crime and immigration problem will come from involvement of high level officials with the T&T government.  The Minister of Tourism needs to have his eyes opened with some hard facts by someone with a bit of authority.  Bill did a brief analysis and computed that the cruisers here contribute 30,000,000 TT dollars PER MONTH to the Trinidad economy.  They need to get on the ball and do something before they lose this business.  Cruisers can and will go elsewhere if something is not done soon. 

Many of the cruisers are writing letters and articles for various magazines and newspapers and online websites.  We think this will have a very negative effect.  We really wish they would wait until after the US Embassy has their meeting with the cruiser community and the local businesses and see what can be accomplished at a higher lever.  Once these letters and articles are published, the damage to the Trinidadian economy will be fait accompli. 

Apparently, Trinidad used to have a Marine Police; but recently disbanded that unit.  So now there is no police or protection entity on the waters at all -- nothing whatsoever.   The T&T Coast Guard is charged with only the duty of protecting Trinidad and Tobago.  They are not responsible for the safety and security of cruising boats within their waters.  This is absolutely nothing like the US Coast Guard.  When the Norweigian vessel gave a May-Day call the other night, the T&T Coast Guard would not even respond.  The Coast Guard finally did respond after several cruisers got on the VHF and told them that they must answer the May-Day call.  It took them more than an hour to respond, and they only had to travel about 1 mile.  This attitude is beyond our comprehension.  Guess we have been spoiled by the US Coast Guard.

Anyway, this won't concern us too much longer; as we are leaving for our Texas & Peru trip on September 1 and returning here the night of September 16.  We plan to leave Trinidad as soon as possible after our retun on Sept. 16 and will be heading to Venezuela.  As Judy told someone this morning, we plan to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. 

BTW, Judy went shopping at a mall yesterday while Bill did a diving class.  This mall was like being back in the US.  Except there is not a waterproof digital camera to be purchased anywhere in Trinidad.  We hope to find one in Houston.  Judy did find new dishes for the boat and several new galley items.  Haven’t like shopping in malls for years but now it is something of a novelty and far more enjoyable.

We now have our own set of Mexican Train Dominoes.  Look out anyone who comes to visit us.  You will be required to learn this game.

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