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More Customs Issues

 Australian Customs Strikes Again

 After a period of reletive peace with customs making every effort to alter their image, a new case demonstrates the risks in complacency. The following is a report from a family member of the crew that was involved in the communications on behalf of the vessel on it's voyage from Wellington New Zealand to Brisbane Australia.

 July #2 2010
From Stef Railey RnR Charters Ltd

Wellington to Brisbane in fourteen days, Brisbane to Hell'n back in one!

On 22nd June two Kiwi guys (Wayne and Bill) set off on a 40' Jenneau yacht out of Wellington, a day later than intended but once NZ Customs has cleared the vessel, there's no turning back. Cook Strait is not a place to hang about, so despite the delay getting away, they headed out into the Strait and across Tasman Bay and battled their way out into the Tasman through heavy seas and a bitter Sou'Easter, lightning flashing around them as the storm moved north. The seas got bigger and bigger and all they could see were dirty great rollers behind them with winds at 50knots, gusting 80knots, in Waynes words, "not nice".
With just two crew on board the watches were three hourly and it was a pretty wet and cold three hour watch, as this yacht is helmed from an open cockpit and no dog house to shelter from the weather.
At times, when there was nil visibility, the auto pilot was used and eyes were on the radar screen. For the first four days and nights this was the routine. Radio scheds were daily at 07.30hrs to NZ Maritime Radio and Waynes partner Stef was calling Maritime Radio, getting the scheds and plotting the course and watching the weather using the website to keep tabs on their position from the comfort of home.
The weather only eased on the fifth day and that night, the famine began, with no wind at all so they fired up the motor and spent the night motoring. Next day, day seven, the wind came back in, but a comfortable 15knots, and built to 35knots during the day. The next four days were more of the same, wind up and down, rain, a bit of motor sailing and a lot of sail adjustments to do. As they got further away from NZ, the radio signal faded and the last radio sched they were able to send out was on the 29th, day eight. Stef had learned that their radio was not getting a signal out back to NZ Maritime Radio and called Lord Howe Island to let them know the yacht might call them up and as they had made slow progress with no wind in the area, they might be needing diesel too, so may call in.
On day nine as they neared Lord Howe Island, they spotted a ship on their port side on the horizon on a converging heading. Being on the port side, the ship should alter course, so keeping a watchful eye on it they continued on. They could see the vessel was going to cross their path at some stage and as visibility was good, expected the Captain was aware of their presence and so knew their position and heading as well. The ship was quite close now and still no sign of a change in it's heading, so the guys altered course and a 'friendly' sailor aboard the ship threw a wave at them as the ship spun it's stern causing the ship to pass uncomfortably close.
More motoring, so the guys called Lord Howe Island Customs and were given permission to come in for fuel. It is only possible to enter the lagoon during daylight hours, so they have to slow to arrive there in the morning to pass through the reef. The people on Lord Howe were very friendly and the Island is a tiny tropical paradise. No diesel pumps on the Island for visiting boats, so the radio operator there, Clive Wilson, offered them a ride to a local farmlet, where an old single banger powered an antique diesel pump, complete with old spinning wheels in the glass case, a real old gem. There they filled their jerry cans at A$3.00 per liter, then back to the boat after paying all the visiting fees and an A$70.00 mooring fee. Not a cheap stopover, but then, the Islanders have to make a living somehow.
Next day, on to Brisbane.
No wind again and spend all day motoring, in the calmer waters, they trolled a 400lb 100m hand line hoping to catch an Albacore Tuna for dinner. They got more than they bargained for when a Blue Marlin took the lure and the line got caught around a fender, so the skipper and Wayne hung on to the line for about 10 minutes as the Marlin jumped and dived and eventually straightened the hook out, a bit of excitement, but no fresh Albie for dinner.
They continued motoring through the night and could hear the throb of more ships engines, but no lights to be seen. It was a clear night and they could just make out the outline of two big black ships, which circled and tailed them for a considerable time. Feeling somewhat uncomfortable not knowing what was going on, Bill the skipper called the ships, identified himself with boat name and callsign, asking them to identify themselves too, but the ships just dissappeared into the night, not to be seen or heard again. They must have been either pirate fishing boats or the Australian Navy on exercises anybodies guess!
The wind kicked back in just on daylight on the twelfth day. 30 to 45 knots on the beam with wind against the 2 knot tide running and the seas got nasty. They stayed on the helm all night, no auto pilot now, the salt water had delt to that and the wind increased to 40 knots, gusting 60knots, but the boat handled it really well. Next morning the wind was still blowing quite strong 30-40knots, but from behind now and they made good progress, making Stradbroke Island just after dark. Luckily, as Wayne had spent time there on the prawn trawlers years ago, he was familiar with the region and was able to carefully navigate around the rocks off the end of the Island. At dawn, they crossed the bar to go through the entrance and on through the network of sandy channels between North Stradbroke Island and Morton Island and across to Brisbane River.
Clearing Customs from a yacht in Queenland.
The Queensland Customs team was less than friendly and took Bill the skipper aside and accused him of not notifying them of his arrival within the 96 hours they demand. Customs disregarded Stefs call to Lord Howe Island, which was made more than 96 hours before the guys arrived there and did not accept that they had asked permission to call into Lord Howe Island and did not accept that permission had been given by the Customs agent there.
The skipper had his boat impounded and had to appear in Brisbane court the next day with a resulting fine of A$1,800 plus A$950.00 court costs. The prosecutor told him he got the lowest possible fine. He also has a conviction now. Welcome to Australia !!!!
The delivery done, Wayne spent a day with his cousin and found out that this is a common occurrence. The view locally is, 'that the State of Queensland is broke and they are finding new ways to pay the bills'. Well, it did seem just a bit unfair and not a pleasant way to be welcomed to the sunshine capital.
Wayne flew back to NZ, but not before suffering one last shot from the Ozzies, Security took him aside and frisked him for explosives before boarding the plane. Me, I'm glad to see him home and when we go offshore again, the Sunshine Coast will be last on our list.
Anybody wanting to find out the ins and outs of cruising the waters of Queensland can contact Bob or go to the website read interesting stories like this one, to find out what (who) you are dealing with when visiting the Sunshine Coast in a boat.

Information and Recomendations for Vessels entering Australia from The Coastal Passage 

It is imperative that yacht skippers study the information on the Customs website ( and do not assume lenience in enforcement. Their email address is and fax is 61 2 6275 5078. When you contact Customs insure you have a receipt to prove you have made notice. Ask for a reply to your email or fax and save it. We do not recommend notification by phone. We have numerous examples of the port of entry not having been forwarded the notice from the headquarters in Canberra. The entry port will assume your guilt unless you can prove your innocence.

With your notification you are required to provide this information;
" The name of your craft
" Craft's Country and Port of Registration
" Your intended first port of arrival
" Your estimated arrival time
" Your last four ports
" The details of people on board including name, date of birth, nationality and passport number
" Details of any illness or disease recently encountered
" If you have any animals on board
" If you have any firearms on board
We would add that recently Customs have been asking if you have any pornography with you. If you deny having any and some is found, you may be charged. If you declare it, Customs may examine your publications or computer files to determine if they believe it is illegal content.
Upon arrival you may be asked to provide a saliva sample. Your vessel may be searched with dogs. In exceptional cases (we have several on file), you may be asked to leave your vessel whilst it is thoroughly and possibly, destructively searched. See this report.
One more note, quarantine has raised their fees considerably. A weekend arrival will cost you over $800AUD over and above all other fees. Try to time your arrival for a weekday in normal business hours if possible.
Things you can do to minimise risk;
1, Do not clear in in Queensland, especially in Brisbane or Bundaberg. They have the worst record by far. Coffs Harbour in New South Wales may be less convenient but may be better in the long run. Customs is a federal agency but has regional enforcement control.
2, Do not relate any information not required of you. If you feel Customs may be interested in your arrival, be assured that any conversation over and above the required information can and will be used against you. If customs officials state you may be in violation, ask for legal assistance and stop talking except to provide information about the contents of your vessel or other information normally involved in clearance. Customs officers will ask you questions that are designed for them to assess your legal vulnerability, for example, are you likely to plead guilty to avoid delays or inconvenience? Are you likely to have the money for the fines?
This kind of assessment has been typical from the very first prosecution and appears to be part of the training of officers. For the stories of the first three cases as written by the sailors, see this link.

We truly regret these actions as the presence of foreign vessels in Australia is a benefit to the local marine industry and a pleasure and interest to local yachts. But we will not be a party to luring in unsuspecting victims either. We hope you still come, but be prepared.