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Liferaft Service in Panama City: A Warning

By Liebi Grüess — last modified May 14, 2014 02:09 PM
Gente de Mar and Panama Marine have been contacted for comment in relation to this report, however both companies have failed to give any response.

Published: 2014-05-13 23:00:00
Topics: Safety and Medical
Countries: Panama

Dear Noonsite,

Please publish our experience as a warning to others.

What we wanted:

After cruising for 3 years from Europe to the Caribbean and Panama, our liferaft needed a service. In Panama City, we asked a small company called Gente de Mar to revise it. Juan (the owner and boss) made us an offer to bring our raft to Colon to have it serviced for $325 ($150 transport split for two boats plus $250 for the revision). The revision itself should be done by Panama Marine, a SOLAS and German Lloyd approved company, who revises the rafts of the freighters. At first, I wanted to supervise the inspection myself, but Juan told me that this would not be necessary, as his employee would supervise and (photo) document the revision.

What we got:

Highly inflated cost: Before and during the revision I had asked several times about the prices of the material that they'll have to replace, but never got to see a price list. A day later than planned, we received the raft and a bill for $783 (transport: $75, revision: $325, material: $308, certificate: $75).

No official certificate: The certificate was useless: all tests were marked "NO", there  was no "next revision"- date, no expiration dates of any material, no test results (pressure readings etc.). We asked about this and why they had only replaced 2 out of 6 rockets, no flares, and no chemical light-sticks. They promised an improved certificate for later on the same day. After waiting for 3 hours longer than the promised time, we enquired by phone and got another version of the useless certificate (the only change was an additional line stating that rafts like this usually get inspected every three years).

Gente de Mar's response:

Being Friday evening and we had just checked out of the country (after seeing the raft was back and only the certificate was wrong), I clearly stated that I couldn't accept this as a "revision" and would not pay for it. I did know that the flares, rockets, light-sticks, and the first-aid-kit and all food and water expired 2011 (as stated with the last revision).

Juan from Gente de Mar first offered "solutions" (would I like a certificate from another raft for my officials that request one? Or: I can go with him to Colon on Tuesday and ask for "my" money back...). Then he yells and curses at me for 15 minutes over the phone. First he states that I owe him $783 (he paid Panama Marine) and then claims that he only does transport and that I should try to get the money back from Panama Marine. Of course I would not get any money from Panama Marine, because I did not have any contact or contract with them.

What the police said:

Afterwards, he talked with his employee who then simply wanted to drive away with our raft in his car. I sat inside his trunk to stop him, upon which he offered to fetch the police. We happily agreed, so he went and came back with 3 policemen. They very patiently listened to our side of the story (in slow Spanish) and then called their superior. Result: it's not their responsibility, but common sense says we're right. They offered to fetch the Canal Police whose business it is.

Panama Marine's response:

After more discussions, I speak with the guy from Panama Marine over the phone. At some point, he and the Gente de Mar employee confess that they did not replace the expired flares, because they didn't have any in stock, and that they didn't replace the chemical light-sticks because you can't buy them in Panama.

It was then that I fully realised we would have to have the raft revised again by someone else. I offered to open it and return all the material, but said I would not pay for the fake revision. Panama Marine agreed.

So we started to open the raft on the dirty dock and noted the following:

- they had cut open the vacuum bag and taped it with scotch tape instead of replacing it (the raft would not have been packed waterproof anymore);
- they had used duct tape directly on the rubber of the raft itself to tie it together, a gluey mess that hopefully didn't dissolve the raft and would or would not damage the raft upon inflation...

Our solution:

Only now I realised, that we would not be able to repack the raft into the box properly. So, grinding our teeth we agreed to pay for all material they replaced and the "service" from Gente de Mar (supervision and transport) just to get away from them and Panama. On the phone, Panama Marine agreed that we pay for the material only, but also asked for $75 for the inspection of the inflation tank. When I asked for the protocol of this inspection, he immediately backed down. Which brings me to the conclusion, that NOTHING was done properly, least of all the control that Gente de Mar promised.

Conclusion:

No matter how many cruisers praise Gente de Mar on the local radio net, be aware that Juan will refuse any responsibility for the services he offers. He'll state that he only does transport (at a higher rate than a taxi).

Friends of ours who used the same revision service (Gente de Mar/Panama Marine) last year, re-checked their certificate after our experience. It was the same useless certificate and they decided that they too needed another revision.

I hope that other cruisers do not lose their money or liferafts with Gente de Mar or Panama Marine.

Liebi Grüess from Leo SY Seluna.

Follow-up from SY Seluna following a subsequent revision of the liferaft

We finally had our Plastimo raft revised by CNI Raiatea, a Plastimo certified company.

A friend of ours supervised the revision for us and told us that they make a reliable impression and do a very good job. Together, they discovered the following about the "revision" in Panama. The guy from CNI Raiatea said he hadn't seen anything like it before, it would be closer to sabotage than sloppiness.

1. The painter/release line was shortened to about 1 meter: the raft would have inflated on deck instead of 5m away from the boat.

2. The pressure-relieve valve was closed. An eventual overpressure would have ripped/exploded the raft.

3. The inflation valve (for an inflation with a pump/service) was left open. The raft would lose air quickly.

4. The roof was not fixated. This might result in it not being inflated, which would result in an overpressure (hence the valve in 2.)

5. A ballast pocket was completely detached. The stability of the raft was questionable.

That they didn't replace all the expired goods we already mentioned in the first report. To sum it up: the raft was pure ballast. Luckily we didn't have to use it.

Leo
www.seluna.ch

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Moondancer
Moondancer says:
Jun 16, 2014 04:28 PM

We are still in Panama and we too have found Juan of Gente del Mar to be unreliable. He will be in the mooring fields tomorrow and will be on the cruisers channel touting for business.

We will ensure that everyone on the net knows of the above problem and suggest that he not be used for anything more important than delivering fuel and propane!

Phil & Nell s/v Moon Dancer

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