Australian Customs Officers – Comments from Cruisers

Published 15 years ago, updated 5 years ago

Following posting of this report from Bob Norson, of the Coastal Passage, noonsite was inundated with e-mails from cruisers who had only positive things to say about their experiences with Australian Customs. These are posted below, however, it is always good to know what “might possibly” happen, so you can be prepared on arrival in Australia.

Message received Nov. 15th, 2008

Greetings Noonsite,

Yesterday I received two reports of a new tactic from Australian Customs. I received an email reporting a boat that landed in Brisbane and was ransacked by customs after ordering the crew to leave the vessel. Dogs and teams of personnel taking turns.

Then a phone call from a TCP contributor and volunteer working with the Port 2 Port rally in Bundaberg, told me the vessel “Friction” was given the same treatment. This vessel reported extensive damage to the vessel and personal property as a result. A powerful personal story here as the vessel left Australia 9 years ago and enroute the skipper met a new bride in Columbia. She was particularly traumatized as she had fear of police and authorities in Columbia but was reassured by her new husband that things were different in Australia.

Dave, skipper of the vessel “Friction”, has since contacted the Australian Federal Police as he feels the latest action of Customs against his vessel was illegal. He states that in the 52 countries he has cleared through no one has ever come close to the nature of Australian Customs and that his vessel was damaged in a way that had he proceeded to sea the vessel and crews safety would have been compromised. He says he is applying to the Supreme Court for an interlocutory injunction to cause Customs to cease this activity until the court can examine the legality of this procedure.

One other boat in the fleet that came in with the rally was searched this way as well, but we do not have the particulars yet.

Most reported a thorough search but courteous treatment otherwise. Some were selected at random for this.

The officer in charge of the search that caused this latest controversy is the same individual that processed the Manzari’s. The incident was reported last night on a local TV station. In response to the inquiry by Channel 7 news team, Customs promised that they would pay for damage to personal property and to repair the damaged electronics on the vessel.

No contraband was reported found in any of these searches. Australian Customs have announced before that they now have the right to deny a crew from recording any audio or video or pictures while they are on the vessel. They will, but you cannot. The act of ordering crew off the vessel outright is new and seems well at odds with any normal police practice for search and seizure.

Bob Norson

The Coastal Passage

New Message received Nov. 21st, 2008

I have just come down from Bundaberg on my boat and saw a number of OS boats clear in without a problem, plus yesterday a friend arrived from the US into Bundaberg also.

I would guess that this is the last loophole left in our fight against drug/contraband imports, and if our most infamous drug baron can get out of the country to Greece in a catamaran, I can see why maybe authorities maybe somewhat focussed on small boats of late.

Even cruisers with their wonderful freedom must realize that we all live in a very different world today.

Peter Sheppard MV SKIE

New Message received Nov. 26th, 2008

We recently arrived in Bundaberg with the Port2Port Rally and received simply wonderful treatment from both Customs and Quarantine, as did everyone else. Yachties who arrived independently in Bundaberg also reported similar treatment. At no time were the officials aggressive or officious.

We witnessed a case where the authorities in New Zealand thoroughly searched a Chilean yacht which they then had hauled and x-rayed. The skipper co-operated fully as he had nothing to hide. There was no bad feeling by the skipper who said: “they are only doing their job”.

Searches such as the one experienced by Friction could happen to any one of us. In our experience, if you co-operate and are helpful you do not have any problems.

Brian Palmer and Jackie Oakey

s/y Songster

New Message received Nov. 26th, 2008

I have just read your article and related links on Sailing to Australia/Australian Customs.

1) We arrived on our yacht a week prior to the port 2 port rally from new Caledonia and found Australian customs/quarantine to be very friendly, polite and professional – not too mention prompt and efficient.

2) I have no problem with quarantine confiscating food/products if it is harmful to Australian flora & fauna and I respect the antifouling rules.

3) Everyone who I have spoken to has found customs/quarantine the same as us (and I have spoken to a lot of people-over 30 boats).


New Message received Dec. 1st 2008

Our recent experiences in departing for PNG from Cairns and clearing back in at Bundaberg strongly reflect the positive experience of most of these contributing yachties. When you do the right thing in terms of notification and declarations, the Customs, Immigration, and Quarantine officers are courteous and professional. We notified a change of Clearance Port from Brisbane to Bundaberg just 24 Hrs. prior to arrival, because the weather closed in, and there was no problem at all.

We too arrived at Bundaberg during the week prior to the Port to Port rally and we were very impressed with the efficient and considerate behaviour of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine officers there.

Oscar, S/y ZEN II

New Message received Dec. 3rd 2008

I am the manager of the Bundaberg Port Marina and have spent ten years watching Customs and Quarantine do their job at the marina. I believe that they have conducted themselves with a high level of courtesy and respect for the arriving yachts over this time. On average we clear around 200 yachts per year through the marina which makes the total number I have seen over 10 years about 2000. With all of those boats, there have only been a few cases where the experience has not been positive. Whatever the reasons for this, I feel is between those involved and the officials.

The Bundaberg Port Marina is waiting to look after the tired and the weary international visitors!

Geoff Beyer

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