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DR New Clearance Regulations – The Reality

By Sue Richards last modified Sep 15, 2009 03:16 PM

Published: 2009-09-15 15:16:37
Countries: Dominican Republic

In response to report posted Friday 26 June.

Sent to noonsite by Jim Graham sv/OSIRIS

The new Decree 280-09 in the Dominican Republic introduces "new" procedures for private yachts that enter the country at privately owned marinas like Ocean World and Punta Cana and the south coast marinas. In the published language there is nothing that specifically addresses anchoring and arriving at ports without marinas. The two most visited ports along the north coast route - Luperon - has only one small marina with very limited dockage. Samana has absolutely nothing - anchoring is the only way there. So at these two harbors most frequently visited by southbound boats on their way east anchoring is the primary and sometimes the only way.

My initial reports by "people on the ground" living there say that nothing has changed from the old ways. And it is unlikely to change anytime soon. They have all heard of the "new" way, but again currently it only addresses places with privately owned transient marinas. It is recently reported that a revision or addendum may be issued to include and specify procedures for boats that anchor and arrive and anchor at non-marina harbors. The suggested language to cover these instances is extremely favorable to visiting boats.

Nearly nine out of 10 North American cruisers heading southeast-bound who stop in the D.R. stop at Luperon during the "mass migration" months. Only maybe a quarter of them will further stop at Samana before Puerto Rico.

The use of the "I-65" route direct from the east coast of the US to the Virgin Islands is indicative of the "hurry" of some to get to the Virgins. Negative reports filtering back of experiences with officials in the D.R. has resulted in many more choosing to bypass the D.R.

How it currently is in Luperon and Samana
Anywhere from two to six (officials) pile into a small fishing boat or commandeer a cruiser and his dinghy to ride out to the new "arrival." Having a thousand pounds of corpulent officials and their "court" climb into your 8.5 foot dinghy and then try to get up onto a sailboat is almost (sometimes really) a scene out of Marx Brothers movie. With wet "dinghy butt" and drenched trousers and shoes they fill up the whole cockpit and proceed to do the paperwork. The paperwork nor legitimate fees are not objectionable, but the overwhelming presence and the "touring" of the boat along with requests for gifts and drinks is. This sets the new arrival up for a negative impression of the D.R. as the new "arrivals" have never experienced this sort of thing before. It's the "first impression" thing.

However in Luperon in recent years it is increasingly common for the Port Authority, Customs, Immigration, and especially Agriculture to not come out to the boats especially if it is close to their "quitting time". Instead of all the officials coming out and boarding your boat, you visit the "green trailer" at the head of the dock the as soon as the “Navy” has finished their inspection or the next morning and do the paperwork and pay the US$43 plus $10 or 15 per person (it is variable) plus $10 for Agriculture (per pet) and $15 for the first 11 days "Harbor and Navigational Aids" fee.

The last one always gets laughs from the cruisers as there are normally NO navigational aids left floating. All of this is straight forward when doing the paperwork at the "green trailer" and no gifts or bribes are asked for. So new cruisers doing the "on-land" processing end up with neutral or favorable impressions of the D.R. and Luperon.

The same applies to Samana, except it is even more humorous and downright frightening sometimes to see 100 kilo (220+lbs) officials jump from the 6 to 8 foot high government pier down into your 8.5 foot long dinghy. They have been known to miss or at best severely stress the floors of the dinghy. It was rare to do the inbound paperwork ashore as the offices are not in a central location as they are in Luperon.

All the above is to help explain what happens in real life in Luperon and Samana.

If the New Law is fully implemented as suggested and includes non-marina ports and anchoring as suggested, it will be an amazing revolutionary change for the D.R. Not only for the cruisers visiting but for businesses and harbor services run by locals. Locals may well see increased visits by cruisers with the subsequent increases in dollars flowing into their pockets. I would venture the opinion that this revolution in procedures and fees may make the D.R. second only to the French Islands in ease and lack of pain in checking in and out.

Jim Graham sv/OSIRIS

Reply from Frank Virgintino (author of the DR Cruising Guide)

I have owned a home in the DR and have lived there for 4 to 6 months per year for the last 24 years.. The new law IS the new law. That all harbors are not in compliance with it, does not mean they will not come into compliance. They must do so without exception, and the new law is being reworked to address the points you make as we speak. How long that will take, I do not know.

Luperon and Samana have always been a problem due to the majority of the boats that go through there based on Van Sants book recommendation as well as the fact that the process WAS under Coast Guard (Marina Guerra) jurisdiction. However, the President does not want the old military franchises to continue with the corruption that has, in the past, made it difficult to enter the DR.

That the new law is under a civil agency is in itself a MAJOR change, as it removes the power from the military. In as much as the new law requires ALL PAYMENTS to go through marinas is also a major change. That it clearly limits how many can board your vessel is also a factor.

Most boats coming down from Canada and the US make their first stop at Luperon and then their 2nd and last stop at Samana, before going "down to the Caribbean". These two harbors, have in the past, received the great majority of the cruising boats, and because the entry laws were under the military (coast guard), tiefdoms were set up and everyone in the chain made money. Those not directly in the chain, added themselves to the chain and came up with a scheme to make money. So when a boat arrived, a long line of "authorities" would enter the boat, all looking for their tip.

The NEW LAW puts the process under PORTS, which is a civil agency. To guarantee the transparency of payments, ONLY the marinas can collect fees.

Thus there are two problems. One is what if there is no marina to collect the fee. And the second is, do you really think those established "businesses" in Luperon and Samana would give up their "fees".

The INTENT of the new law allows for 90 days in the country for the 5% dockage fee. The government did not contemplate cruisers who anchored under the new law, however under the new law, once one has cleared into the country (no charge for immigration if no passengers), they would be entitled to 90 days in the country.

THE MAJOR POINT that was accomplished in the new law IS THAT THE PROCESS WAS MOVED FROM MILITARY JURISDICTION (Coast Guard) to CIVIL JURISDICTION (Ports). This broke the back of the old system and the corruption that went with it. Many parts of the country are in compliance. ALL THE MAJOR MARINAS are in compliance. As time goes by the old system will fail and fall by the wayside.

It is easy to understand that some cruisers would become confused and believe that the new law applies only to those that enter private marinas. The truth is that Luperon has long been a problem with entry for cruisers. This is due to the fact that many cruising boats enter through Luperon, and those that have made a business from "entry fees" are no longer entitled to them. Since the last thing a cruiser wants to do is to begin fighting with the authorities on arrival, boats continue to pay in Luperon (and Samana). However, a cruiser can clearly state the new law and indicate that they are unwilling to pay as no payment is necessary.

The new law requires that 5% be added to all slip rentals for those that are clearing in. It follows that if one anchors there is no slip rental and thus no payment. Unless one chooses to pay the illegal fees being requested, one should arrive and clear Immigration first. There is no charge under the new law for Immigration. Once your passport is stamped, you have legally entered the country. The prior fee to bring the boat in, $43.00, has been cancelled under the new law and thus there is no payment due.

IF Marina Guerra (coast Guard) and M-5 (intelligence) and Drugs, wants to inspect your boat, they should be permitted, PROVIDED that they do not bring more than 2 individuals on the boat, which is the requirement of the new law. ANY payment that they are requesting should be POLITELY refused. The LAW is the LAW, and the more cruisers who refuse to pay when arriving in Luperon, the sooner the old system will break down.

The LAW is the LAW, and the more cruisers who refuse to pay when arriving in Luperon, the sooner the old system will break down.

Insofar as a despacho to the next harbor, under the new law, marinas can issue a despacho from harbor to harbor. If there is no marina involved or available (as in Luperon), then the cruiser should go to the next harbor without any despacho. They have their stamped passports which proves that they have entered legally. Beyond that, under the new law, nothing else is required.

Under the new law clearing into the country is extremely inexpensive. Under the old law, one paid $43 for the boat and $15 for each tourist visa, plus $10 for a despacho to the next harbor. Under the new law, if one were really concerned, they could rent a slip for ONE NIGHT. At an average rate of $1 per foot for the average 45' boat, the cost would be $45. If there were two people on board, that would still be $38 less than the old law, and much less than many foreign countries. For the die hards who want only to anchor, then one might think to be a little more proficient in speaking Spanish, and have a copy of the new law in Spanish with them.

See my Cruising Guide (www.dominicanrepubliccruisingguide.com) for which harbours are in compliance - very shortly a harbor by harbor review will be made of who is and who is not complying with the new law.

The DR is a tourist driven country. While there are authorities who will try to extort fees, if one refuses, no one is going to push the matter to a level beyond a minor inconvenience(A discussion of why you are wrong or some other confusion intended tactic). The boat will not be seized and the Captain and crew will not be jailed. No one is going to jeopardize their position by having to defend their action and their job down the line. Especially in light of the new law, which is quite clear.

For the first two weeks of November I am planning to lead an "around the DR cruise" for boats that want to participate. There are two reasons for it. One is to update the guide and the second is to challenge the authorities in those harbors that are not in compliance.

Interested cruisers should contact Frank Virgintino at frankvirgintino@optonline.net

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