Visiting yachts ‘pose little virus threat’

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By Carl Joseph

Amid growing concern surrounding the possible importation of COVID-19, National Parks Commissioner, Ann Marie Martin, is seeking to allay fears that visiting yachts pose a threat to the country’s wellbeing.

“Ninety-nine percent of these yachts were already in the Caribbean since November,” Martin explained.

The Caribbean yachting season runs from late November each year, kicking off with the Antigua Charter Yacht Show in early December and culminating with Antigua Sailing Week in May.

The commissioner said the boats typically make their way through the OECS countries down as far as the Grenadines.

“So we’re not seeing an influx of yachting passengers coming out of Europe and Italy and those areas. These people were already in our waters, so I would say it’s pretty safe here,” Martin said.

In addition, Martin pointed to the increased level of protocol checks implemented through local immigration and port departments.

“There is now only one port of entry [for these vessels] into Antigua,” Martin explained.

Upon arrival, vessels are screened by immigration and health officials before being green-lighted to their destination.

Despite the $6.7 million in economic activity expected to be lost as a result of Antigua Sailing Week’s cancellation, Martin says the global pandemic may actually see a financial gain for the country’s national parks.

The majority of the 200-plus arriving yachts use Antigua or St Maarten as their base for the season. With many of the other regional ports closed, it now provides an opportunity for Antigua to benefit.

“If you look around, the docks are filled and so there is a lot of economic activity still going on,” Martin said.

Martin pointed to insurance fees, maintenance, taxes, registration, and mooring or dock fees associated with the boats’ extended stay on the island.

Most yachts typically begin their crossings back to the Mediterranean in March or April to get ready for the summer season, although many yachts will remain up until May. This may not be possible this year due to countries closing their borders worldwide.

Meanwhile, Observer spoke with a few crew members at Nelson’s Dockyard on Thursday to get their reaction to the axing of the much-loved regatta.

Captain of the Amadeusi, Phillip Cruz, said he and his crew were now waiting for the perfect time to cross the Atlantic back to Europe.

“There’s nothing we can do now until this thing is sorted out and figure out when is the best time to go back,” the captain said.

“Why are we worried when the health minister is on the ball? He knows what he’s doing,” responded another crew member.

They added that most of the fear they have is for their family back home.

The captain of the Joker, Slade Wilson of Sweden, said he too has been forced to stay on the island because most of the other ports have shut down.

Wilson said he hopes to return home next week, but said that he is uncertain as “you never know because things are changing by the hour”.

A crew member of pleasure boat Namaste expressed disappointment at the cancellation of the event saying it’s a trip they make every year.

“It’s a shame that Sailing Week had to be cancelled. It’s a good event… but I guess it’s a necessary measure that had to be done,” he said.

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