Buccoo tour boat stopped by Coast Guard over safety concerns

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

The glass-bottom boat forced to turn back by the Coast Guard over the weekend as it made its way to the Buccoo Marine Park. –

FAILURE to produce registration documents, captain’s license and insurance were some of the reasons given for the intervention of armed Coast Guard on a glass-bottom boat during the Easter weekend at the Buccoo Marine Park.

A video went viral on social media showing an armed official comforting a crying child onboard the vessel.

A male voice can be heard in the background shouting, “So guys, this is what happen when we’re doing tourism and Coast Guard come on the boat and all their big guns – people cry. You understand? People cry. So you’re going to be on Facebook tonight.”

The man can be heard asking the Coast Guard official for his name.

“This is what is going on…We don’t know his next name, but this is what is going on here…You’re on my boat – you can be a pirate. What’s your name? You can be a pirate in Coast Guard uniform, because you don’t even have your Coast Guard badge on you.

“He’s not giving us his name.

“This is what is going on in Tobago. In Tobago, they can board your boat and do what they want and they’re not giving you their name.”

In a press release on Wednesday, the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development defended the officials’ actions while apologising for the inconvenience patrons faced.

The release said a joint patrol from the division and the Coast Guard was carried out to ensure visitor safety and protect the marine eco-system. It noted that while patrolling the area, the team encountered a vessel registered as TL504, which had previously been warned multiple times for not complying with park regulations.

It said despite these warnings, the vessel’s captain failed to produce essential documentation, including vessel registration, his captain’s licence and insurance, and the vessel appeared to be carrying more passengers than its legal capacity.

“As safety is our utmost priority, and in light of the repeated non-compliance with regulations, the Coast Guard officers were left with no choice but to board TL504 and escort it back to the Buccoo Jetty.”

The division said it understands that this may have inconvenienced passengers, and as a result, it sincerely apologised for any disruption caused.

“However, it is crucial to emphasise that the actions taken were necessary to ensure the safety of all visitors and to uphold the park regulation. The Easter joint patrol operation was largely successful, with the majority of vessel operators complying with regulations.”

It urged all vessel operators to adhere to park regulations, maintain proper documentation, and prioritise passenger safety.

It also said the joint patrol team remains committed to diligent monitoring of the park and will take appropriate action when necessary to ensure a safe and sustainable environment for all.

Newsday contacted the boat captain, only known as ‘Mr Phillips’, as well as PRO of the Buccoo Reef Tour Operators Association, Michael Frank. Both declined to comment. ACP Tobago Collis Hazel said he had no knowledge of the incident.

THA Deputy Chief Secretary Dr Faith BYisrael, in a post in the Executive Council WhatsApp media forum, said, “This is certainly a larger issue about whether our security personnel are properly equipped.

“Does it make sense having machine guns when doing crowd control for carnival/fetes? It is a critical issue – but certainly not one that this THA has responsibility for. Of course, as we build out our THA safety and security mechanism, how we equip those individuals will take this observation into consideration.

“It’s a delicate balancing act. We will get it right (eventually).”

The new regulations for access to the marine park were expected to be rolled out in phases in the short, medium and longer terms.

At a launch three years ago, a policy to improve safety and security at the park was laid down. The first phase was expected to see the regulation of the vessels in the area. Management of the vessels will essentially regulate the activities within the park. Tour boats may be permitted to be in the park area to carry out tours.

Fishing vessels may transit the park, but fishing (or the removal of any organism from the park) is prohibited.

Anyone who wishes to use the park must apply for a permit. The park will be open during the hours of 9 am-5 pm, and activities in the night will be regulated for specific activities, such as the bioluminescence tour.

Providing permits was said to be an important first step to the many phases needed for the successful management of the park, since by monitoring and documenting who uses the marine protected areas, how they use it and when, the management authority can be proactive and dynamic in reducing cumulative stress. The policy said this could be done with marine spatial planning and an active response system in case of disturbance.