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Contrasting Experiences Clearing Into Galapagos

By doina — last modified May 24, 2005 12:34 PM

Published: 2005-05-24 12:34:51
Countries: Galapagos

Noonsite has received several accounts of yachts clearing into the Galapagos for the 2005 season, some negative, some positive. Three different reports are posted below.

I checked into the Galapagos Islands on 12 April 2005, at Isla Santa Cruz, along with another yacht. Both of us had received conflicting information about the check-in process; about the need or otherwise for a fumigation certificate and cruising permit; the length of stay allowed; and whether we can stop at Isabella for a day or so on the way to the Marquesas. We had sought lots of up-to-date information from sources like Noonsite, current cruise guides, and yachts at anchor at Santa Cruz.

We presented ourselves at the Port Captain's office, neatly dressed and supporting smiles. After pleasantries it all fell apart. Having sailed through Asia, the Red Sea, Egypt, Mediterranean and the Panama Canal, I have to say that I have never had such a hard time. It took us three hours to check-in; the level of frustration was very high, and we were only saved from sailing away from the Galapagos that afternoon, by the intervention of another person, who spoke Spanish and English, though the language translation wasn't the issue.

In the port captain's office, for three hours, we experienced significant delay and obfuscation in completing the simple check-in process of showing our papers, reading one page of rules, receiving a bill, and paying money.

The first officer required us to return four hours later, and when we did return he made us wait for 20 minutes. Although we were standing at his desk, he left the office without doing anything or telling us he was leaving.

A second officer eventually took over and, despite a language translation program on a computer, he consistently failed to respond to simple questions like: "How long can we stay? What do we need to do now? Will you give us an invoice so we can pay?" We were heavily pressured to use agents for a number of services including check-in. We were asked for obscure documents like an EPIRB registration, which we didn't have with us in the office. When the second officer finally did decide to complete the process, it was clear that he DID understand the process very well, and DID understand us. We had been harassed for over two hours.

Finally we were allowed to stop in Santa Cruz only, and then for 12 days (most people seem to get 10 days here and 10 at Isabella). We paid the port fees in approximately the amount we had expected, however we were left with a very clear opinion that there had been a significant attempt to extort money or gifts from us. The bottles of whisky on top of a filing cabinet supported this.

The police, acting for immigration, charged us $USD 25 for check-in and $USD 25 for check-out, when other yachts only days ago been charged $USD 15. When we asked for a receipt, it was not forthcoming. If not theft, it certainly appeared to be so. We were very disappointed because we believed that the Galapagos was free from graft, theft and corruption. Later we found that has not been the way of Ecuador.

On the other hand, we found the residents and shop keepers very pleasant, helpful and honest. Others must have had similar experiences. We can't understand why people are not reporting such events, or is the statement that "the port captain has wide discretion", a euphemism for graft in the Galapagos?

Tim Lamble, SY Libelle

We stayed 10 days in the Galapagos, both in Puerto Ayora and Isla Isabel. Everybody very friendly. Total $217 in Puerto Ayora and 35$ in Isabel. Had a permit to stay 30 days. Fuel is easily available in both Islands (1.70 $/Gal Puerto Ayora and 1.50 in Isabel) In both islands fuel is delivered to the boat in 20Gal Jugs and poured into boat tank by local fuel guys) I used a local handler (Ricardo Arenas) and that made everything very easy, but could have done it myself without much fuss. All in all a very enjoyable experience, better than expected!

Giorgio Cagliero

I personally believe that there was no one boat in the fleet this year facing the same charges and fees. We all have a story to tell. Few of us found the fees correctly issued and they were applied or not at what seems to be a non-logical and random system. We believe it is safe to say that the best way to cope with the incorrect applications, extortions and made up invoices is to relax and look at it as a one time expense. All Port Capt. in Galapagos were put there by their superiors. There are wheels within wheels and as we were in Galapagos, a lot of locals were extremely upset with the bureaucrats being so open to corruption.

However, the official charges in 2004 were as stated by Johnny Romero of Naugala Shipping:

International arrival $ 0.028 multiplied by your yacht gross tonnage

Access to the channel $0.21 multiplied by your yacht gross tonnage

Anchorage $2.21 multiplied by your yacht gross tonnage

Lighthouse $3.00 multiplied by your yacht gross tonnage

Use of Frequency $ 10.35

Format $0.31

International departure $0.028 multiplied by your yacht gross tonnage

Immigration $ 30.00 for the yacht

You should always have a receipt or you may get in trouble at the next Port Captain who may not want to know about the back handing in other ports. We had the choice to pay US$54 for a Zarpe and "Contamination fees" in Floreana, or get off lightly with a stamp on the back of our documents, no receipt and only US$30 charge for that. However, arriving in St.Cruz the Port Captain got extremely upset and yelled at us for 30 minutes before we could explain the situation. We thought yelling at the Port Capt. of Floreana would have been more appropriate.

In any case, if you would want to do it all legally, you always go to the Port Capt. on arrival and before departure. Every stop at any port will cost you approximately 50 US in addition to your initial arrival charges at the first port of call in the Galapagos. Leaving a port you should have a Zarpe and "Contamination" document for the next port, as we sailors tend to contaminate every port we visit, don´t we. Quite amusing is also the "Frequency Fee" which gives you the official right to pollute the fresh Galapagos air with your VHF calls. That is, if you can find a free minute on Channel 16 while the locals don´t use it.

Don´t get us wrong, Galapagos is a favourite of ours, but the administration has completely got out of hands and yachts are treated rudely and impolite especially in St.Cruz.

Tom Mueller, s/v Mizmae

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