Yacht tourism is thriving in Fiji with tourists and other interested persons wanting to come and experience the attractive white sandy beaches, the sunshine, the untouched beauty of elite small islands of pristine Fiji waters, the unpolluted environment and the very friendly attitude of Fijians.
The Fiji Government assists this industry greatly to attract this niche up-market tourists to enjoy the privileges and the unique Fiji experience.
The Government has extended the time allowed for visiting yachts in the country to 18 months, duty on importation of yachts to 5 per cent, and a simplified Super Yacht Charter Act.
The amount of time and money being spent here in Fiji by yachts indicates that Fiji is a super yacht destination.
Yacht agents work closely with government departments to facilitate customs clearance for ease of travel by yachts and to support the revenue stream.
The yachting season in Fiji is traditionally in the winter months with yachts arriving from May each year and generally departing in November to miss the cyclone season.
Superyachts or luxury yachts play a major role in the yachting industry. A superyacht measures at a minimum of 24 metres at the waterline with vessel weight ranging from between 1500 to 3000 gross vessel tonnage and maximum passenger capacity of 12.
A super yacht has facilities equivalent to a five-star luxury hotel at sea.
A survey conducted by Port Denarau Marina reported a 38 per cent increase in the luxury yachting industry’s direct contribution to the economy.
The survey showed that 56 superyachts visited Fiji in 2014 in comparison to 32 in 2010.
The superyacht agents are required to register with FRCA, obtain a vessel permit and superyacht charter permit on behalf of the vessel owner and charterer respectively.
The superyacht agent shall lodge the application for registration with a fee of $5000. If an application is declined, the agent has the right to appeal to the Ministry of Tourism within 72 hours after receiving the decision of the CEO.
An agent may hire the services of a licensed shipping agent upon first arrival to facilitate Customs boarding clearances.
The arrangement should clearly be between the overseas owner and the Fiji agent and not any other middle party, such as the hiring agency.
Negotiations between the overseas-based superyacht owners and the superyacht charter agent in Fiji must commence before the agent applies for any permit.
Once a charter permit has been issued, the Agent should ensure that the Super Yacht is allowed to navigate legally through Fiji waters using Fiji Admiralty Charts.
The permit would also serve as a notice on the validity of the superyacht operating in Fiji to the Fiji Border Police, director of Immigration, Fiji Navy and Ministry of Indigenous Affairs.
While a superyacht can stay in Fiji for up to six months at a time, it can apply (two times only) for an extension for a maximum stay of 18 months.
The superyacht agent shall pay an administration fee of $3000 when applying for the vessel permit and the permit is valid for a period for six months.
When applying for the permit, the agent must ensure that the superyacht shall:
* have a recognised charter contract;
* will carry no more than 12 passengers;
* will charge a minimum weekly charter charge of $US55,000 ($F114,334) (per person); and
* has a valid Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) certificate or equivalent internationally recognised commercial survey certificate.
Superyacht charter fees
A 12.5 per cent charter fees will be charged per week to the superyacht agent on the gross charter amount as per the charter contract.
Superyachts must be admitted for charter services or under Code 239 and must fully subscribe to the fundamentals of applications, approvals, permits and licenses as prescribed under the Superyacht Charter Act 2010.
Superyachts will only be issued with a cruising permit by FRCA upon the payment of 12.5 per cent of the charter amount, which is to be at a minimum rate of $US55,000 ($F114,335).
Superyachts normally enter into Fiji under Code 228 as well and switch over to Code 239 when applied for charter permit.
This is allowed to bonafide tourists and enables superyacht owners for extended stay and the “spin-offs” will create a positive effect in our economy and society as a whole.
The superyacht master is required to fly the quarantine flag (letter Q) on main mast immediately upon arrival at the Fiji port.
Health quarantine should be the first to board, unless a free pratique was granted.
This is very important as the superyacht may have been operating in certain areas threatened with sicknesses such as malaria, typhoid, small pox, etc.
Superyachts arriving from any point north of Brisbane, including Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu must not be boarded unless Health authorities has issued the pratique.
FRCA Customs, immigration, biosecurity and agent will board the superyacht to inspect for full compliance under superyacht charter or Code 239.
Most superyachts have several types of flower pots and pot plants, these are referred to biosecurity for appropriate action as these may hold bacteria, viruses or any kind of agricultural pests and diseases.
Superyachts need to have the following boarding ready for inspection:
* Superyacht Arrival Notification;
* Certificate of Customs Clearance from Last Port;
* Inward Report for Superyacht under Code 239 of the Customs Tariff Act;
* stores and bar list;
* medicines, drugs and narcotics list;
* arms and ammunition list;
* Form D;
* marine declaration;
* manifest of any cargo for landing in Fiji;
* parcels list (for any non-cargo);
* sighting of superyacht register for details; and
* notice to owners/masters of overseas superyacht compliance conditions of temporary entry into Fiji.
Superyacht master and crew will be permitted crew allowances equivalent to final landing passengers within the limitation allowable of passengers arriving into Fiji.
Surplus items shall be either (a) duty paid or (b) transferred on entry to a general bonded warehouse for safe keeping and drawn in legal lots after duty-payment.
Superyachts carry large stocks of high duty goods such as beer, wines, champagne, liquor and tobacco goods.
These will have to be temporarily sealed until duty paid or removed to bonded warehouse. Some superyachts are quite large and have special bond stores designed to be sealed by Customs.
If there is no satisfactory sealing facility on board then all such high duty goods will have to be detained and subjected to either payment of duty or re-exports upon final departure.
FRCA would conduct a stocktake on board of such goods and allow the yacht to sale freely in Fiji. Upon departure another stocktake is conducted — whereby duty is paid on stock being used while sailing the Fiji waters.
The agent must give Customs an open indemnity agreement that the chartered superyacht shall not be thrown open to public thoroughfare, except to paying superyacht passengers.
In indemnity shall have clauses that shall not impose any liability against the Fiji Government for any damage of whatsoever nature to the superyacht, or its master and crew or to any passenger faring on that superyacht.
Superyachts are heavily armed with automatic assault weapons and caches of ammunitions and all arms and ammunitions including all explosives must be detained and with full documentary conveyances over to police.
Superyachts also carry on board very expensive sporting items such as specialist scuba diving gear, jet-skis, hovercraft, etc and none of these would be permitted to be removed from the superyacht and taken ashore in Fiji.
Where a yacht anchors on an island, the yacht master must provide the turaga ni koro (village head) the coastal cruising permit with proper approval by FRCA; Ministry of Health and Biosecurity Authority of Fiji.
It is unlawful for any yacht to visit any island without this formal approval. Where villagers see suspicious activities or movements in a yacht in their area, they need to contact police or FRCA on 3243666; fax 3301186 or email email@example.com
Suspicious movements of yachts
Below is a list of some suspicious movements of superyachts;
* yachts picking up passengers at sea / islands (e.g. locals or foreigners).
* yachts that does not present proper clearance documents when asked.
* yachts travelling to your area and owner or master do not come ashore.
* abandoned yachts or damaged/capsized yachts.
* yachts dropping goods in sea at locations which are not usually used by other yachts or vessel. And other vessel is sighted picking up the goods;
* yachts are unmarked or yachts without flags, which cannot be identified by villagers; and
* yachts sighted carrying restricted or prohibited goods e.g. weapons (guns or explosives), drugs and endangered species or foreign animal.
Issues identified here in Fiji
The following have been identified and yacht owners taken to task from the respective port of entry in Fiji:
* the abuse of concession code 228 — Under Concession Code 228, yachts don’t pay any duty to FRCA as they in Fiji for pleasure cruising or yacht racing. This would be applicable to tourists. However, FRCA have identified yachts arriving here in Fiji for business purpose;
* owners of the yachts have property in Fiji and are not tourists;
* yachts exceed their allowed stay in Fiji;
* yachts that have been put up for sale with no formal clearance to Customs for full importation;
* yachts that have come from high risk countries (mainly South American countries — high risk of drug trafficking, arms smuggling and human trafficking);
* identified persons onboard without proper documentation;
* wildlife smuggling — FRCA closely monitors yachts along the coastline lines of Yadua Taba (Crested Iguana National Park); and
* yachts not submitting weekly reports to Customs.
Yacht owners were charged severe penalties and had to full duty where the above discrepancies were been found.
Any person who deliberately provides false documentation to mislead or deceive FRCA, breaches clauses in the permit conditions, or operates without a permit shall be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned for one year.
The Superyacht Charter Act 2010 has punitive provision for suspension and cancellation of the Superyacht Charter Permit for yachts that do not abide with the Fiji laws.
(Source: The Fiji Times ONLINE Business News – Fiji Revenue & Customs Authority 31 May 2017)