"Ours is one of many boats that has been seized in Mexico," writes Cranky Sailor. "Our boat was in a marina in Ensenada at the time. We are trying to find other victims of the AGACE attack on foreign boat owners, but it’s not easy, and I imagine people are simply afraid to speak up, fearing revenge from the Mexican government. We were wondering if Latitude 38 might connect us with other people who got their boats stranded in Mexico. Or perhaps give us some advice on what we should be doing in this situation. We were even thinking that what we all are going through might very well be a basis for a class-action lawsuit.
"As for us, we are going through some interesting times, since we don’t take lightly the illegal seizure of our vessel, which is also our home. We consider this to be a theft or act of terrorism, as there have been no official charges against us or our property, nothing in writing, no legal proceedings, just verbal threats of violence against us if we make noise or try to leave. We’ve had our plans drastically changed by the AGACE seizure of our yacht, and are looking for the ways to somehow learn more about the situation, and possibly take some control of our property and personal safety.
"We would very much appreciate any advice."
Our answers, in order:
1) To our knowledge there is no list of boats that have been ‘seized’ or ‘impounded’. So we have no idea how you can contact them.
2) It’s unclear what it means for a boat to be put under ‘precautionary embargo’. Does it mean you can go sailing if you stay in the port captain’s jurisdiction? Who knows? We do know it means that if you try to clear out of a port captain’s district or clear out of Mexico and your boat name is on a list, you can’t leave.
3) To be honest, we’re not sure what you or we — our boat has also been impounded — should be doing in this situation. The timing is unfortunate, as it’s over the holidays and Mexican officials are off until January 7. We thought about contacting our insurance company to give them a heads up, but our broker suggested that we wait. After all, if the insurance companies get wind of how many boats have been seized, impounded or whatever, they may cancel insurance for boats in Mexico and not write any new policies. What a disaster that would be, as it now seems everybody needs insurance to cruise in Mexico. Our plan is to see how things go after the start of the new year, and perhaps see if there was any good result of the scheduled meeting between Hacienda and Tourism on December 24.
4) By the way, we have no idea how many boats were originally on the ‘list’ or are still on it. About two weeks ago, Paradise Village Marina Harbormaster Dick Markie told us he thought there were 1,200. El Cid Marina Harbormaster Geronimo Cevallos said he’d heard there was over 400. And Fito at Marina Coral, who attended the meeting in Mexico City with Hacienda, told us it was 338. We’ve been using the 338 number because it’s the lowest. Again, there is absolutely no transparency to any of this.
5) The fact that AGACE doesn’t seem to contact anyone in person or even in writing is truly disturbing. In the first ‘Lectronic after the first of the year, we’ll explain how this lack of communication has created a massive amount of unnecessary problems and, even worse, terrible publicity for Mexico. See the second letter in this ‘Lectronic (below).
6) Illegal seizure of a US documented boat, maybe, but terrorism? We don’t think that’s going to fly. A class-action suit against Mexico? That’s not going to happen.
7) If you have been threatened with physical violence, you need to document that and send us the details. To our knowledge, all the AGACE auditors have been very friendly, although the business of being accompanied by marines with machine guns and through-the-night searches are pretty creepy to most Americans.
In short, we recommend you stay cool and hope Mexico finds a solution where they can save face before they do too much damage to themselves.
The Wenthur Law Firm of San Diego sent a letter — see below — to members of the Southwestern YC advising them about the need for a HIN or hull identification number when in Mexico. They gave good advice — as far as it went. What both the law firm and AGACE have neglected to address is the fact that HIN numbers weren’t put on boats until the early 1970s. So some boats don’t have them. Some non-US-built boats don’t have HIN numbers either. Another issue is that many boat hulls have been repainted and, in the process, the HIN was sanded off. While at the Fonatur Marina in Mazatlan the other day, we noticed that about one-third of the boats had no HIN numbers. Yet another problem is that HIN numbers on multihulls can be in a different place — the aft crossbeam — than on monohulls. We weren’t around, but we’re told that AGACE agents looked all around the upper aft part of the main traveller beam in a vain search for Profligate‘s HIN number, which is stamped into the aft crossbeam. It’s a pity they simply couldn’t have asked us.
The Wenthur Law Firm letter to the Southwest YC:
"33 CFR §181.29 — Hull identification number display.
Two identical hull identification numbers are required to be displayed on each boat hull.
(a) The primary hull identification number must be affixed—
(1) On boats with transoms, to the starboard outboard side of the transom within two inches of the top of the transom, gunwale, or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest.
(2) On boats without transoms or on boats on which it would be impractical to use the transom, to the starboard outboard side of the hull, aft, within one foot of the stern and within two inches of the top of the hull side, gunwale or hull/deck joint, whichever is lowest.
(3) On catamarans and pontoon boats which have readily replaceable hulls, to the aft crossbeam within one foot of the starboard hull attachment.
(4) If the hull identification number would not be visible, because of rails, fittings, or other accessories, the number must be affixed as near as possible to the location specified in paragraph (a) of this section.
(b) The duplicate hull identification number must be affixed in an unexposed location on the interior of the boat or beneath a fitting or item of hardware.
(c) Each hull identification number must be carved, burned, stamped, embossed, molded, bonded, or otherwise permanently affixed to the boat so that alteration, removal, or replacement would be obvious. If the number is on a separate plate, the plate must be fastened in such a manner that its removal would normally cause some scarring of or damage to the surrounding hull area. A hull identification number must not be attached to parts of the boat that are removable.
(d) The characters of each hull identification number must be no less than one-fourth of an inch high.
[CGD 79-013, 48 FR 40718, Sept. 19, 1983; 48 FR 53558, Nov. 28, 1983]"
What to do if your hull has been repainted and the hull number sanded off? We have no idea, but we do know that Dremel makes an engraving tool for about $25. We also know that the HIN numbers on some well-known brands — i.e. Catalina — look as though they were engraved by a 10-year-old. Other HIN numbers are professional looking.
One repercussion of the AGACE action is this from Charles Lane, who has cruised Mexico for a long time aboard the San Francisco-based Shamwari: "I sent the following to Sr. Jorge Gamboa, Director of Tourism for Mexico in Los Angeles:
"I am a cruising sailor. Fortunately, I brought my boat back to the US in July, after 10 years in Mexico. I was planning to return next month. Needless to say, I will not be coming back. I love Mexico, but will never risk my boat, which represents my life savings and most valuable asset. Even the threat of seizure of one’s boat is far scarier than the gales, reefs or threat of piracy to an owner, who suddenly finds his future in the hands of an unseen menace that he or she did not create, deserve, or understand. I cannot imagine what the Hacienda people were thinking, but they just killed a golden goose, as we say. I have read your comments to Latitude 38 and do not in any way blame you or your hard-working staff."
In writing to Sr. Gamboa, Mr. Lane is preaching to the choir. As Sr. Gamboa told Latitude he’s very upset about this "ridiculous" action and will fight as hard as he can to get it resolved. We think Mr. Lane hits the nail on the head when he talks about boatowners’ fears of even the threat of seizure by an "unseen menace" being perhaps the greatest fear of all.
As we’ve said before, we have no problem with Mexico wanting to get a handle on what boats are in their country and making sure all have the proper papers and markings. As we’ll demonstrate in a ‘Lectronic after the start of the year, this isn’t necessarily enough.
Make no mistake, we love Mexico, and above all the people of Mexico, which is why this is so infuriating. We hope Mexico can find a solution to this problem as quickly as possible, before too much more damage is done.
Meanwhile, we’re told that people in the know in La Paz and Mazatlan, to name two places, expect to be visited by AGACE in January. As such, make sure all your paperwork, your document and HIN numbers on your boat are in order. And above all, make sure you are on your boat 24/7 in case you’re visited by AGACE.