Seafarers seek shelter from Hurricane Beryl

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Evin of Florida plays with his dog Scout while on their yacht on Scotland Bay, Chaguaramas, on July 2. They were among the yachties who escaped Grenada to seek shelter in TT before the passage of Hurricane Beryl. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

SEVEN days ago, Hurricane Beryl was on a crash course for the southern Windward islands, eventually wreaking havoc on Grenada – Carriacou and Petite Martinique – St Vincent and the Grenadines – Union Island, Canouan, Mayreau and Palm Island and Bequia – and parts of Barbados, Tobago and Jamaica.

As Beryl approached, an influx of boats and yachts were seen coming to Trinidad.

In an X (formerly Twitter) posted on June 30, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert said, “The government is preparing to accommodate them.”

Speaking to Newsday via telephone on July 6, Minister of Trade and Industry Paula Gopee-Scoon said this accommodation and the waiving of fees to boat and yacht owners was a measure of goodwill.

“It was also a way of showing off our country’s yachting sector for those who have come here in distress.”

Vice president of the Marine Services Association of Trinidad and Tobago (MSATT) – who represents all businesses that support the marine sector – Jesse James shared similar sentiments.

“A lot of these boat owners are our customers, we need them to come here.

“Beryl is a regional disaster and we had to reach out to assist with the situation – when the registration is finished you will see over 200 yachts have fled here.”

Yachts anchored at Scotland Bay, Chaguaramas, after Hurricane Beryl. Over 160 yachts came to TT waters seeking shelter from the hurricane, officials told Newsday on July 2. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

Gopee-Scoon said on July 6, the official numbers have not been presented to her as yet, but well over 160 boats and yachts are registered in Trinidad and Tobago.

When asked what additional benefits the yachting sector and Trinidad and Tobago can have from the influx of boats and yachts Gopee-Scoon said.

“TT have very skilled craftsmen and the boat and yacht owners can get a lot of services done.

“We spent quite a tidy sum in the micro and small businesses in the yachting sector, particularly in the post-covid era as a lot of them suffered with the boarders being closed, so we provided support to them.”

James, drawing reference to Grenada after Beryl hit saying “boats are in trees and falling down like dominoes.”

He commended the collaborative effort of all the government agencies – Customs and Immigration, Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard (TTCG), Ministry of Agriculture Land and Fisheries and his line-minister Gopee-Scoon.

James said the TTCG have been particularly helpful during this time, as three vessels broke down while attempting to make it to Trinidad and Tobago.

Trouble in Paradise

Zi Vu a boat owner from Vietnam spoke to Newsday on July 2 at the Power Boat Association, Chagaramas and said she was docked in St George’s, Grenada, and heard the news of Beryl making its way up the islands.

“It was a very stressful situation for us as we didn’t know if it would hit Grenada or not.

“We decided to head to Trinidad at the last moment but our boat was not 100 per cent ready.”

Vu and her partner Tom Maszkoqski decided to make their way to Trinidad and Tobago after getting assurance from James all systems were ready to accommodate them.

“When we left Grenada the wind was strong and the seas were confused, it calmed a bit, but around 1.30 am, our engine died.

“We sailed towards Trinidad as the wind was favourable for us.”

She said they contacted North Coast Radio who acknowledged and assured they’d take care of us.

“It took us 11 hours of sailing to get to the channel of Trinidad and Tobago and then we contacted James who sent us a tow boat.”

Vu said they were relieved when they were rescued.

“The whole experience was very welcoming and reassuring.

“After 23 hours at sea in a high-stress situation, it was a great feeling. They are heroes!”

Vu and Maszkoqski have checked into Crews Inn Hotel as they plan on staying for a month, to do some repairs on their boat.

“We also plan on exploring Trinidad and Tobago – the tours, nature, the people and the food.”

During the week of July 1-5 MSATT turned the Power Boat Association into an operation centre.

Newsday also spoke on July 2 to Dr Nikola De Leon, a veterinary officer, Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Production and Health Division who said they have been inspecting pets coming into Trinidad and Tobago with the boats and yachts.

“Considering the way they had to flee to Trinidad, they may not have had all the documents for entry to Trinidad.”We’re doing rapid risk assessments and based on those assessments we are allowing the pets into the country.”

Newsday asked if there has been any complications thus far.

De Leon said, “No, because to enter any country in the Caribbean the pets would need to meet certain health requirements and once they fulfil those we allow them based on that.

“We assess the risk of the animal entering to our population, the disease status of the animal, but most of them are very well taken care of and up-to-date on all their vaccines.

On July 2, over 20 pets have been assessed and registered since June 30.

Tedious registration process?

Frankie Quesnel, a seaman for over 35 years, took Newsday to visit owners of yachts off of Monos Island and Scotland Bay who have anchored their boats in Trinidad and Tobago waters on July 2.

On the way he explained, “There are usually 15-20 boats out here and right now you can see about 75-100.

“All of these boats here, sheltering the storm and will probably stay there for a bit.”

A Florida yacht owner who did not want to be named said while he is grateful for the accommodation in Trinidad and Tobago, the system of registration needs to be clearer and less frustrating.

“There needs to be more clear information on the government’s website about clearance and how to efficiently go about the entire process.”

He said it took him approximately six hours on July 2 to get everything completed.

“Today they were backed-up and even seeing all those people there (Immigration and Customs) they took lunch and locked the doors.”

In response to these claims, Gopee-Scoon said, “We knew we had a problem before (with the registration process) and we acted on it.

“We had developed some legislation which was supposed to be a single harmonised form but, after the legislation passed there were complications with some of the stakeholders.”

She explained there are many stakeholders with regard to boats and yachts coming to Trinidad and Tobago.

“The single harmonised form was a replacement for the 14 forms that are required, but there were issues with the implementation.”

Gopee-Scoon said she is hopeful the Sail Clear system will be implemented in early 2025.

“This is the system used in the region and it’s an online clearance system for entry and exit for yachts and boats.”

While the process was frustrating to the Florida yacht owner, he will move back-and-forth between Trinidad and Tobago and Grenada, while monitoring the seas for hurricane activity.

While he is here, he plans on exploring Trinidad and Tobago as much as possible.

Brent Warren from St Augustine, Florida, said when word of the storm got to him, he was in the Grenadine Islands.

The Warren family of Florida on their yacht Sea Dog at Scotland Bay. – Photo by Ayanna Kinsale

“I came to Trinidad and Tobago as quickly as possible and I’ll be staying here for a month or two.”

Warren said he was one of the first boats to arrive in Trinidad and Tobago, yet the process of registering was still “tedious.”

“It took me an hour and a half to fill out the paperwork and another two hours and a half at Customs and Immigration.”

Warren is however happy to be in Trinidad and Tobago, as he is with his wife, seven-year old son, four-year old daughter and 16-year old niece.

“I’m looking forward to doing the hikes and visiting the waterfalls.

“I also have some repairs to do on the yacht, so I’ll get that done while I’m here.”

Warren said he’s been living on the seas for a year and a half now and has visited all of the islands in the Caribbean thus far.

Timothy Steer from Ft Lauderdale, Florida,has been boating for two years full-time.

When the storm was approaching, he was overnighting in Grenada.

Steer plans on staying in Trinidad and Tobago with his wife until the hurricane season finishes, but was yet to register when Newsday spoke to him on July 2.

“I was here 20 plus years ago and I love the country.

“I haven’t registered with the authorities yet, but I plan to first thing tomorrow morning.”

Gopee-Scoon told Newsday she was very pleased to assist and thanked all the agencies involved in the process.