January 8, 2014

The Poop From Impounded Boats In Mexico Hits the Fan

For decades Mexico has been a favorite cruising destination of both American and Canadian sailors. But will the recent impounds now scare them away?

© Latitude 38 Media, LLC

A month after 338 foreign boats were illegally impounded in various marinas around Mexico, the poop is really starting to hit the fan. Officials from various Mexican agencies, such as Tourism, were hoping that AGACE, a subdivision of Hacienda (the Mexican IRS) which mistakenly created the fiasco, would be able to resolve the situation by Christmas or at least the beginning of the new year. They didn’t succeed.

There are three kinds of poop currently hitting the fan.

First, Cleve Hardaker, Staff Commodore of the Pacific Coast Yachting Association, reports that "a good many racers are already canceling plans to sail to Mexico." During a phone conversation, Hardaker said that "hardly anybody is signing up for the Ensenada Race," which is historically the biggest race to Mexico. This certainly doesn’t bode well either for MEXORC, the every-other-year major sailing regatta on Banderas Bay. The Mexican government regularly invests several million dollars in that event. Hardaker also reported that one San Diego yacht club that had regularly held races into Mexican waters — i.e. the Coronado Islands — has now revised the courses to keep boats out of Mexican waters.

The second poop is that a Mexican television producer has been filming and interviewing boat owners, marina staff, and officials in Ensenada — where a large number of boats have been impounded — for a segment intended for American television. That’s not good for Mexico or the rest of the West Coast sailing industry.

The biggest bomb of all, however, is that Associated Press, which provides stories for every major newspaper and television in the United States, is planning to run a big story on the problem late this week or early next week. Our understanding is that the impetus for this story was the impounding of a multimillion-dollar boat in Ensenada, a boat that had gone to Ensenada for a few days for boat work, and a boat that was in full compliance with all Mexican regulations. The owner and captain were aboard when AGACE auditors came around. The auditors told them that everything was fine, but nonetheless put the boat on the impound list, later saying they didn’t observe a HIN (hull identification number) on the boat. The HIN is clearly imprinted in the hull exactly where it should be. (This experience roughly matches that of ours and our catamaran Profligate.)

Our plan at Latitude had been to begin a petition campaign to only officials in Mexico, the United States and Canada. We didn’t want to go to the mainstream media just yet, as the story is going to create massive negative publicity for Mexico and a lot more innocent victims. But with the AP story a fait accompli, we agreed to be interviewed extensively by the AP. We tried to make it clear that our belief is that this is all a giant mistake, and that when President Pena Nieto and others in his Administration learn what has happened, they aren’t going to be very happy, especially since AGACE, having impounded 338 boats, hasn’t been able to figure out the process for un-impounding them. Few, if any, want their names associated with any part of this drama, but that’s not our way. So we suppose if things go south and AGACE needs a boat owner’s head to use as a piñata, it will be ours.

The bottom line is that a lot of boat owners, boat businesses, boat workers, and a wonderful destination country are suffering for the blundering of one new sub-agency of the Mexican IRS. We implore all of you to take a few minutes to copy and send a petition — see next item — to as many officials and media outlets as possible. Then get on your Facebook page and encourage all your friends to do so also. For while on the surface it may appear to only affect boat owners in Mexico and nautical tourism in Mexico, it actually has major negative ramifications for the whole West Coast sailing industry.

Sample Letters to Officials & the Media

For the sake of American and Canadian boat owners, the country of Mexico, marine businesses and workers in Mexico, and marine businesses and workers on the west coast of the United States, we beseech you to take a few minutes to send your thoughts to Mexican and US officials, as well as the US media. This is very important, as we need thousands of emails sent to make an impact.

At the bottom of this page, we’ll provide a list of officials and their email addresses. If they are Mexican, send the Spanish version of the letter we provide or a Google translation of one of the short sample messages. In the case of President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senators Feinstein and Boxer, it’s a little more complicated, as you generally have to fill out your name and address before you can send a message. Please don’t let this be an obstacle, as it’s important to get their attention or that of their underlings.

If you want to keep it short and quick, send a message similar to one of the following:

1) I have followed the reports of tens of millions of dollars worth of US and Canadian boats having been illegally impounded in Mexico for more than a month. These boats need to be permitted free transit as guaranteed by international maritime law.

2) I have cruised Mexico aboard my boat before and loved the country and the people. But the unfortunate illegal impounding of 338 US and Canadian boats means I will not be returning any time soon.

3) I have spend years preparing my boat for a cruise to Mexico, Central America and the South Pacific. The actions of AGACE have convinced me it’s not safe for foreigners to bring their vessels to Mexico, so I will reluctantly bypass Mexico.

4) I was about to buy a boat/condo/property in Mexico. If AGACE can illegally impound foreign boats, there is no way I can believe my investment will be safe, so I am looking elsewhere to invest.

You get the idea. All these represent the thoughts contained in letters we’ve received at Latitude 38. Length and formality of emails are nowhere near as important as the number of emails. Be respectful, and please realize the actions of AGACE absolutely do not reflect the attitude of Mexico as a whole. President Pena Nieto, Immigration, Tourism and other major industries have emphatically been encouraging nautical tourism and trying to make it easier for visitors.

If you want to get a more detailed message and explanation of the situation, we’ve created the following letter for your consideration. The President of the Mexican Marina Owner’s Association has read it and said " . . . it describes the problem very clearly." The Spanish translation was done by the manager of a marina in Mexico that has not been hit by AGACE, but he is frightened not just for his marina, but for the entire marine industry in Mexico.


Three hundred and thirty-eight pleasure vessels worth tens of millions of dollars continue to be illegally impounded at 12 marinas in Mexico. Most of the vessels are American and Canadian, and range in value from $10,000 to several million dollars. In many instances these boats represent the single most valuable financial asset of the owners.

I am urging your help in seeing that this injustice — as well as the damage to the reputation of Mexico — is brought to an immediate halt.

In late November about 100 auditors of the AGACE division of SAT (the Mexican IRS), backed by a large contingent of marines armed with machine guns, descended on seven marinas in Mexico, from Ensenada to Acapulco and Puerto Vallarta to Cancun. Their goal was to make sure that all the boats in the marinas complied with Mexico’s very reasonable regulations for visits by foreign vessels, and they ended up thinking they had caught over three hundred foreign boat owners who owed big tax bills.

Unfortunately, the head of the relatively new agency, which is charged with overseeing the importation of ‘merchandise’ to Mexico, is a politico and did not understand that foreign cruising vessels are not imported "merchandise" like appliances or electronics, but rather a very valuable part of the nautical tourism industry. Foreign cruising vessels are not in Mexico for permanent importation, which is why they are issued 10-Year Temporary Import Permits.

Most of the 338 vessels that AGACE claimed were out of compliance were not out of compliance. The problem was that the owners were not aboard, and thus were not able to show auditors their Temporary Import Permits, the location where their HIN numbers were permanently engraved in the hulls, the engine serial numbers and so forth. It did not help that the auditors knew nothing about boats and were thus unable to distinguish between basic things such as boat brands from brands of electronic components in the boats.

Much of Mexican law is based on Napoleanic law, so if the boat owner wasn’t around to show AGACE agents the necessary paperwork and numbers, the boat was assumed to be out of compliance, and thus put in ‘precautionary embargo.’ Embargoed boats are not permitted to leave the dock. Astonishingly, AGACE has yet to officially inform a single boat owner that their boat has been impounded, so many boat owners still aren’t even aware that their boats have been impounded.

About a week after the initial raid, AGACE did a second check, usually with marina managers and their lawyers present, and found out that almost every boat they had impounded was actually in compliance with Mexican law. You would think that AGACE would immediately release these innocent boats. Alas, AGACE has said it will take 45 to 120 days for them to complete the paperwork necessary to do this.

This delay in freeing the boats is both outrageous and in violation of international maritime law that guarantees free passage of vessels except in cases where a crime has been committed. The damage can also be seen in the sudden lack of interest by Americans in racing to Mexico, the cancellation of a three-race series from San Diego to Mexico, and American cruisers vowing never to bring their boats to Mexico. The reason is simple: foreigners now have reason to fear that their financial assets and investments can be capriciously taken from their control. Officials of other branches of Mexican government, such as Tourism, have understandably been horrified by this action by AGACE, which they described as "ridiculous."

For the sake of the owners of these boats, as well as the wonderful country of Mexico and its people, I beseech you to do whatever you can to help resolve this unfortunate situation. Time is of the essence, for by the end of the week the Associated Press will be sending a story on this to every major newspaper and television station in the United States, at which point the damage to Mexico could be even more significant and long-lasting.

I want to emphasize that I, like all others who cruise Mexico, love Mexico, love the people of Mexico, and believe in full compliance with Mexico’s laws. Please see that the best ‘ambassadors for Mexico’ don’t become victims of the unfortunate misunderstanding of the law by one small agency of the Mexican government.


Trescientas treinta y ocho embarcaciones recreativas con un valor de decenas de millones de dólares continúan siendo incautadas ilegalmente en 12 marinas en México. La mayoría de las embarcaciones son de origen Americanas y Canadienses, y están valuadas desde $10,000 dólares hasta varios millones de dólares. En la mayoría de las instancias estos botes representan el único activo financiero valioso de los propietarios.

Estoy pidiendo tu ayuda para ver esta injusticia – también el daño a la reputación de México. Esto debe cesar inmediatamente.

A finales de Noviembre alrededor de 100 auditores de la división AGACE del SAT  (el IRS Mexicano), respaldados por un gran contingente de Marinos armados con armas automáticas, descendieron en 12 marinas en México, desde Ensenada hasta Acapulco y Puerto Vallarta a Cancún. Su objetivo era asegurar todos los botes en la marina cumplieran con las regulaciones razonables Mexicanas para la visita de embarcaciones extranjeras,  y terminaron pensando que habían capturado mas de trescientos dueños de embarcaciones extranjeras que deben grandes cantidades de impuestos.

Desgraciadamente, el jefe de la relativamente nueva agencia, que es encargado de supervisar la importación de “mercancía” a México, es un político y no entendió que las embarcaciones de crucero no son importadas como “mercancía” como electrodomésticos o  electrónica, sino más bien una parte muy valiosa de la industria del turismo náutico. Las embarcaciones foráneas de crucero no están en México  como importación permanente, razón por la cual solo tienen un permiso de 10 –años temporal.

La mayoría de las 338 embarcaciones que AGACE incauto estaban fuera de cumplimiento no estaban fuera de cumplimiento. El problema fue que los dueños no estaban abordo, y esto no permitió que fuera posible mostrarle a los auditores sus permisos temporales de importación, numero de documento permanente gravado en el casco, la localización del numero HIN, el numero de serie del motor y así sucesivamente. Esto no ayudo a que los auditores no conocían nada acerca de los botes y no se pudieran distinguir entre las cosas básicas entre marcas de botes y marcas de componentes electrónicos en los botes.

La mayoría de la ley mexicana es basada en la ley de napoleón, así que si el dueño del bote no estaba alrededor para mostrarle a los agentes de AGACE  los papeles necesarios y los números, se asume que el bote esta fuera de cumplimiento, y esto pone en “embargo precautorio”. Los botes embargados no se les permite que dejen el muelle. Asombrosamente, AGACE debe informar a cada uno de los dueños de cada embarcación que su embarcación ha sido embargada, así que muchos de los dueños de embarcaciones ni siquiera saben que sus embarcaciones han sido embargadas.

Alrededor de una semana después de la incursión inicial de  AGACE hizo una segunda revisión, usualmente con los administradores de la marina y sus abogados presentes, y encontraron que casi todos los botes embargados, estaban en cumplimiento de la ley Mexicana. Uno pensara que AGACE inmediatamente soltaría los botes inocentes. AGACE ha dicho que le tomara de 45 a 120 días para completar el papeleo necesario para hacer esto.

Este retraso para liberar las embarcaciones a la vez es indignantes y viola las leyes marítimas internacionales que garantizan la libre navegacion de las embarcaciones con  excepción de aquellas en que se haya cometido algún crimen.  El daño también puede verse en la falta de interés en las regatas organizadas  a México, la cancelación de una serie de carreras de San Diego a México, y los navegantes Americanos han jurado nunca traer embarcaciones a México. La razón es simple, como extranjeros ahora temen que sus activos financieros y sus inversiones puedan ser caprichosamente tomados de sus manos. Oficiales y otras ramas del gobierno mexicano, como la de turismo, se han horrorizado justificadamente por esta acción "ridícula" por AGACE.

Por el bien de los propietarios de estas embarcaciones, y por el bien de México, y la gente de México, te suplico que hagas todo lo que puedas hacer para ayudar a resolver esta desafortunada situación. El Tiempo es esencial  para el final de la semana la prensa estará mandando una historia a todos los periódicos y televisoras en Estados Unidos, a este punto el daño a México será significante y duradero.

Quisiera enfatizar que me gustan todos los que navegan por México, aman México, Aman las personas de México, y creen estar legalmente conforme con las leyes Mexicanas. Por favor, como los mejores embajadores de Mexico no se conviertan en víctimas del desafortunado malentendido de la ley por una pequeña agencia del gobierno Mexicano.


1) Claudia Ruiz Massieu, Secretary of Tourism for Mexico.

2) Carlos Joaquin sub secretary of SECTUR, which is Tourism.
C. P. Carlos Joaquín González
Subsecretario de Operación SECTUR


3) Luis Lara, a political appointee, the one at AGACE who ordered the audits:
Lic. Luis Lara
Administrador General de Auditoria de Comercio Exterior  (AGACE)

4) Lic. Aristóteles Núñez, Jefe del SAT, which is the Mexican IRS, and thus is Lic. Luis Lara’s boss.
Lic. Aristóteles Núñez

 5) Lic. Sergio Alcocer Martinez de Castro,
Subsecretario para America del Nortes

6) Ambassador E. Anthony Wayne, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico.

7) Eduardo Medina-Mora, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States. Mexembusa@sre.gob.mx

8) Mexico’s Consulate in Los Angeles:

9) Mexico’s Consulate in San Francisco:

 10) President Barak Obama:
You have to sign up for this. No, we do not expect President Obama to threaten to nuke Mexico is they don’t release the 338 U.S. and Canadian boats impounded in Mexico. But if the office gets enough emails, the right person may be alerted to look into it. Every little bit helps.

11. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Go to http://contact-us.state.gov and fill out the form.

In addition to these elected and appointed officials, please write to your local and regional newspapers. The important thing is that the word gets spread as far and wide as possible. Mexico needs to feel the heat. Thank you for your help.

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