The members of the Rodney Bay Seafarers Association say they are a frustrated and fed-up group. And they blame non-nationals who they say are taking advantage of legal loopholes to engage in tours. Established in 2012, the association boasts a membership of ten, one of whom told the STAR: “As far as we are aware they are supposed to undertake only off-shore tours. Tours to Anse Cochon, for example, are off limits.”
Says Charles Beausoliel, “These boats are not entitled to do half-day and full-day tours. They are supposed to stick to off-shore tours where you leave one port and enter another for more than a day. That’s what they are authorized to do, not tours where you take people down to, say, Anse Cochon, Soufriere and so on.”Added Charles Beausoliel, an outspoken member: “This situation is hurting us badly. Three months into the year and I have not had a half-day let alone a full-day tour. Our boats are very expensive. Added to our huge investment are registration, licensing and docking fees at the marina. Things are so bad right now some of our members cannot meet loan or insurance payments.”
Referencing the foreign boat owners, he said: “Some of them engage local businessmen or lawyers to front for them. Others have contacts in key positions. Then there are those who marry Saint Lucian women to become citizens with the right to set up shop here.” He also revealed that some of the foreign boat owners offer to teach young Saint Lucians about sailing, which he said always goes down well with the authorities.
“It is not like we don’t have the capacity to handle certain tours,” said Beausoliel. “So we are really asking the government to help stop the foreign boats coming to Saint Lucia to do what we are quite capable of doing. We are also appealing to the big local tour operators to engage us more often.”
The Maritime Consultant at the Ministry of Tourism, Cuthbert Didier, acknowledged the local boat operators had some legitimate concerns but wasn’t sure they were pursuing the right solutions. He suspected they were not as united in their efforts as they ought to be, and needed to make their voices heard.
Didier said that despite the boatmen’s complaints “there are real opportunities, niche markets that they don’t cater for.” Didier also expressed concern about the issuing of licenses by SLASPA without consultation with the Ministry of Tourism.
On the question of the foreign boat owners coming in and engaging in “training” for young people he said a better licensing regime had to be established. “I think that if you are coming in to do training, then you should be registered as a training school.”
In 2010 SLASPA published helpful tips on how to register vessels in Saint Lucia, among them that registration is also open to individuals or corporation in bona fide joint venture shipping enterprise relationships with citizens of Saint Lucia. But the minister is authorized to permit “other persons” to do boating business here in some circumstances.