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Lattakia - Informal Information

By Val Ellis last modified Jun 06, 2010 11:54 AM

Published: 2010-06-06 11:54:17
Countries: Syria

Our thanks to Ian Strathcarron of s/y Vasco da Gama

Although Banyas and Tartous are also Syrian ports of entry, yachts are encouraged to use Lattakia, the most northerly of the three options. Lattakia is also the only one with berthing and shore facilities for yachts, the only one used to dealing with yachts and the only one where one does not need to use an agent – so Lattakia it is.

At least a week before departing for Syria send copies of passports, ship’s papers and a provisional ETA to your hosts the Syrian Yacht Club (SYC), at The man in charge is Mr. Ammar Shreiba (+963 932 778 170), and very charming and helpful he is too. Then as soon as the provisional ETA becomes firm, and at least 24 hours before arrival, confirm the arrangements with Ammar.

All ships from supertankers to kayaks have to approach Lattakia from the reporting point Sierra Charlie, twelve miles true west of the Syrian coast. And no cutting off that corner, as Syrian Navy patrol boats prowl up and down the corridor with a $4,000 fine to hand. This is the first sign of the official paranoia with which the Syrian government treats foreigners, and of which more later.

On reaching SC call Lattakia Radio on VHF 16; they will ask you to call Lattakia Pilot 3 miles out, again on VHF 16. Next call SYC on VHF 16 – they will tell you to call again on VHF 17 at the entrance to the small boat harbour.

This harbour is to the north of the main commercial harbour, and can be approached directly from SC. Aim for the conspicuous, ill fitting eight storey blue and white building block with lots of gubbins on its roof. You can wile away the near approach trying to guess what it is, and why. The entrance is tucked away just north of it. Once inside the breakwater aim for the northern quay, drop an anchor and aim bow- or stern-to the quay with its new power and water points. There should be no shortage of helping hands from the Syrian powerboats which use up the bulk of the quay.

Now the fun starts. You have to stay on board with the Q flag flying until your first visitor, the health inspector, arrives. He will want a copy of the crew list, cast an eye over the owners of the names and if no one looks too pasty stamp both copies and tell you to take down your yellow duster. Soon other functionaries arrive: first someone in a uniform, who said he was ‘ from official’, then two men from Immigration, then the Customs man in full military fatigues. It’s all very relaxed and hospitable, cold beer is much appreciated, and within an hour or two all should be complete and you are free with a fresh new visa to step ashore for fifteen days.

The visa situation is in a state of flux, and it will be well worth checking on the latest developments before arriving. Multiple entry visas are no longer available from the Immigration office at Lattakia, and as of late May 2010 - in a diplomatic tit-for-tat - US citizens have to apply for a visa in Washington if they have had a previous single entry visa. Both of these changes – if they stick - will be problematical for those trying the obvious option of touring northern Syria from Lattakia and southern Syria, including Damascus, from Beirut.

Even single entry visas are only valid for fifteen days, and this brings us back to the official paranoia about visitors. Everyone one meets loves Syria in general and the Syrians in particular. Never can there be a more natural – and still uncrowded - tourist destination: history – this is where it all started; archaeological sites – dozens, from every civilisation you can name and many you can’t; ancient cities – that’ll be all of them, with authentic souks and biblical bustle; deserts – you bet, with camels and clear night skies too; hospitality – it’s not just the ‘you are welcome’ you hear everywhere, but you really are (italics) welcome. Why then the official reticence? This is not the place to discuss our host’s politics, but let’s simply say a more striking example of a government not representing the people would be hard to find.

All of this means that Syria has to be cruised on land, with the yacht staying behind with the SYC in Lattakia. She will be completely safe there, well sheltered and secure. The SYC is trying to develop the harbour as best it can, and if it still has bring-your-own-paper-and-hope-for-the-best type of heads, there is a sporting chance you’ll meet one of its peacocks in a cubicle. There is wifi in or just outside the SYC office, provisions across the road, but no chandlery.

The only dissenting note to strike about Lattakia is the cost. The berthing itself is not too expensive at around €20/night for a 12m yacht, with 20% discount available to various cruising clubs. The damage is done by all the extras: the Immigration entry and exit charges, ‘Formalities’, ‘Expenses’, and ‘Tonnage’ all appear on the charge sheet, so that a week for a 12m yacht will cost somewhere around €500. It’s all a function of the authorities treating yachts like commercial shipping, as per having to use the shipping corridor, and so ‘Formalities’, ‘Expenses’, and ‘Tonnage’ are all charged pro rata as they would be on a freighter in the main harbour. Of course these fixed costs mean the longer one leaves the yacht there the more cost effective the stay becomes.

Unfortunately the official paranoia makes it is impossible to cruise down the 110 mile coast to Lebanon if one is heading south; instead one has to exit by SC too, turn south and stay more than 12nm offshore. It’s shame for yachtsmen and Syrians alike, as it would make a most fascinating cruising ground for the former and provide more opportunities for the enterprising latter.