By Lucy Chabot Reed
M/Y Savannah, the new 274-foot (83.5m) Feadship that turned heads at last year’s show, has decided not to visit South Florida this fall because of difficulties some of its 22-member crew have had obtaining B1/B2 visas. Several were issued C1/D visas, which are meant for crew on commercial vessels and limited to 29 days.
But because the yacht is listed on a few websites as available for charter, consular officers interpreted that as being commercial and issued the C1/Ds. M/Y Savannah carries a Marshall Islands flag and can have limited charters under its private registration.
“The boat is privately registered, and the rules say we need a B1/B2,” said Capt. Michael Dailey, delivery captain on Savannah and other large yachts. “Being given a C1/D is like being given tickets to a double feature that are only good for the first movie. It doesn’t work for what we need to do.”
Capt. Dailey has been instructed to take the yacht directly from the Med next week to its winter cruising grounds in the Southern Caribbean.
As a relief and delivery captain, Capt. Dailey has crossed the ocean five times this year alone, and has worked on at least as many large vessels. In a phone conversation yesterday from La Ciotat, France, he relayed similar visa stories from each one.
“They had planned to stay six weeks, but if half the crew get C1/Ds, they won’t do what they planned to do,” he said. “If they hadn’t had the hassle, all that work would have been done in Palm Beach.”
Dailey said that even the captain, an industry veteran who had had 10-year B1/B2 visas in the past, was denied on his most recent application. He has reapplied in a different embassy.
“You look it up on the internet and suddenly it’s the God’s honest truth,” said Capt. Dailey, an American. “It’s not the people in Washington [that are the problem]; it’s the people at the various embassies around the world — some civil servant paid with my tax dollars, deciding to use Google instead of relying on the official documentation from the vessel’s master.”
M/Y TV carries a Cayman flag and, like many yachts, flips its commercial registration to private during its crossing so that it enters the United States as a private vessel.
“What they obviously don’t understand at the embassy level is that yachts can charter here in the Med or the Caribbean on a commercial registration and then switch registrations to enter into the U.S. as a private yacht,” Capt. Dailey said. “And many make the switch, like I just did on TV on the way across. The yachts and management companies all know full well they cannot charter in the U.S.”
About a dozen large yachts share the shipyard in La Ciotat with Capt. Dailey and Savannah, many of whom are still deciding on their winter programs, he said. An American who lives in South Florida, Dailey said he’s worried that more captains will choose to avoid U.S. port calls due to the hassles their crew are having getting B1/B2 visas.
“Crew have been denied visas previously for any number of reasons, which are completely valid,” Capt. Dailey said. “That’s random. This is rash. It’s been happening for about a month, and I’m hearing all the guys complain about the same thing. It’s happening embassy-wide.”
Officers from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard are scheduled to take questions from yacht captains and crew at the annual luncheon hosted by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida on Saturday at noon. (Invitations are required; email email@example.com or visit M/V Grand Floridian on the face dock at Bahia Mar to request one.)
“If we address this all together, we could draft a memo that could go up the chain of command,” Capt. Dailey suggested. “CBP could help you all get to the bottom of this rash of C1/D visas being issued instead of B1/B2s, and why embassies are relying on Google to issue visas.”
It may be too late for M/Y Savannah, which is scheduled to leave France next week and head to the Caribbean. It had planned to stop in South Florida to provision for a lengthy, off-the-beaten-path season.
“They had some maintenance work to do, and they wanted to give some of the crew time off,” he said. “They wanted to stay longer than 29 days.
“The biggest impact is going to be right there in Fort Lauderdale — not in Charleston or San Diego, but in South Florida where all the big yachts go,” he said from France yesterday. “If anything over 40m stops calling on Fort Lauderdale, we’re all going to wake up and say what the hell? It’s going to turn South Florida into a ghost town. That’s just unacceptable.”
Any captains or crew who have had experience in the past couple of months applying for and/or obtaining a visa, please share your story, good or bad. This is our chance to address the issue with the officials who can do something about it.
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of Triton Today. Comments are welcome below.