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Emergency Stop in Xiamen

By Sue Richards last modified May 10, 2012 02:40 PM

Published: 2012-05-10 14:40:35
Countries: China , Hong Kong , Taiwan

We set sail on April 26, 2012 from Zhoushan, Zhejiang, China, in order to deliver a brand new 38’ sailing catamaran from the builder to the dealer in Hong Kong. Although having gone through our routine weather forecast consultations we could not foresee that we would end up in unpredicted severe weather off the coast of China in the Taiwan Straits.

At April 28, 9am, the Southern winds and waves plus ocean swell were of such magnitude that we had to use full engine power to make very slow progress towards our destination. The amount of fuel we carried would suffice to make the voyage on power alone 1.5 times, providing there was reasonable weather as forecasted prior to us setting sail. The increased fuel consumption with the bad weather as going to make it impossible to reach Hong Kong on the fuel we carried. The waves were throwing the catamaran up and down very violently and we feared for damage of the mast and rigging.

The fact that beating into the waves and wind was not helping the cause of delivering a new boat to Hong Kong (while keeping her new in the process), and to flee the thunder and lightning at sea, we decided to seek shelter and anchor at an island nearby, not knowing that this was a Taiwan owned military island. We were chased off by a Taiwanese Coast Guard patrol boat. Because both Taiwan and China offer no entry to foreign registered recreational craft we decided to go to the nearest port, which was Xiamen.

Via the owner of the boat we were delivering we got a contact in Xiamen. While we made our arrangements with her we were anchored off Kinmen Island (Jinmen) where another coastguard boat came to ask us what we thought we were doing there. When we told them we were waiting to set sail for Xiamen to hide from the weather at sea and to top up our fuel supplies they wished us luck. Later we realized that Kinmen is Taiwanese and the coastguard was Taiwanese.

After we arrived in Xiamen we, the crew and boat, were detained for illegally entering a Chinese port with a foreign registered recreational vessel. This offence carries large penalties with the possibility of the boat being impounded. This situation was serious and could easily have turned into a drama if we hadn’t received the help that we did from our contact and a local shipping agent who proved to be playing a pivotal role in our release. We were detained for a total of 3 days and all this time we were detained on board the boat in the WuYuan Bay marina with 2 security guards watching over us for 24 hours a day. They stayed over-night on the boat.

On May 2nd it was decided that we were not going to be prosecuted for illegally entering, but that we were genuinely running from weather and seeking temporary shelter. Our logbook entries, chart markings and film material contributed to this decision. This case is unique and was being discussed by authorities in Beijing we were told.

On May 3rd we departed Xiamen and on May 5th we arrived in Hong Kong.

Our adventure cost us US$2,000 in agent fees. Our contact arranged for free berthing in the excellent WuYuan Bay Marina. We consider ourselves very lucky to have met many great people (including the officials dealing with our case) who were genuinely helping us. Officials repeatedly apologized for the bureaucracy and told us that the current system is not up to date.

The things we have learned from this ordeal is that Kinmen (Taiwan) would have been a more suitable place to stop, because they have less bureaucracy to deal with.

We should also have called the Xiamen Port Authorities on VHF channel 8 and 12 at least 3 times before sailing to the WuYuan Bay Marina club.

Arrangements made by local friends prior to entering Xiamen waters were considered illegal and could have led to our contacts being prosecuted for assisting in an illegal entry.

During this adventure I realized what a great place Xiamen is and could become for cruisers. A total of 1000 marina berths have recently been constructed and the WuYuan Bay Marina club is located in a bay with deep water and a bridge over 25 meter high at low tide. Fuel and repair facilities are offered. Restaurants and several chandleries are located within walking distance. The International airport is just a 20 minute drive from the marina. Xiamen itself was a breath of fresh air. Having been in every corner of China, Xiamen has a very "Parisian" feel to it. Lots of green and beautiful lanes with trees.

Hopefully Xiamen fill follow Sanya’s example and soon become a cruising destination.

Marius Arts
IIMS Yacht & Small Craft Surveyor, Delivery Skipper.
Hong Kong