We were dismayed to read Susan Smilie’s article in the Guardian last week announcingthat “an estimated 500 boats are crossing the Atlantic to Europe in the coming weeks. From the South Pacific to the Indian Ocean, thousands of people are trying to sail home or find shelter”.
The pandemic has left many yachts stranded far from their home ports or at least wondering where they may be permitted to make landfall. Under international maritime law, whilst yachts are generally free to cross the territorial waters of another country, and even anchor in coastal waters should they be in distress, each country is free to determine on what terms yachts may enter its ports. International guidance recommends that all countries should render assistance to yachts in distress at sea but the sort of pre-planning which the pandemic has necessitated will generally mean that yachts cannot claim to be “in distress” or otherwise in need of a “port of refuge”. Smillie tells the story of a yacht that was disallowed a stop at Cape Town and it had to make for St Helena some 1200 miles distant!
The WHO has recently highlighted the need for coastal states to ensure that passengers and crew can be embarked and disembarked, that yachts can visit shipyards for repair and survey, and that supplies can be loaded. WHO guidance also recommends that free pratique (permission to enter a port) should not be prevented for public health reasons, whilst recognising the need to prevent the spread of any infection.
Many countries have nonetheless closed their ports and marinas to yachts or imposed draconian testing or quarantine measures. Whilst some of these measures may breach international maritime law, private yacht owners will have little choice but to comply with them.
However, in the UK, there are no such rules prohibiting entry, but some ports require yachts coming from overseas to submit a health declaration. Whilst lockdown is now easing and boating activities are once again permitted on open waterways in England, the UK government may soon introduce a quarantine period for all land, air and sea arrivals, making it more important than ever for yachts to check their planned place of arrival well in advance and to establish what facilities will be available.
Here at Berthon Lymington Marina, we are well ahead on this front and can assure you of a warm welcome…we can aid boats by isolating them whilst we provide fuel, water, and even provisions in a managed distanced manner, until you have successfully complied with local quarantine rules which appear to be changing daily. Having travelled long distances at sea, you should be considered to have already self-quarantined for however many days you have been at sea. As long as customs are correctly informed, we can make the rest easy, whether in transit or seeking longer-term shelter ashore or afloat.
Stay safe, and fair winds in these tempestuous times; call Luke Machin (Berthon Lymington Marina Manager) on +441590 647405 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.