MEXICO — Starting around Dec.7 of last year, several Americans with boats docked in marinas located throughout Mexico had their vessels boarded and subsequently impounded by the SAT (Mexico’s IRS) over the course of several weeks. At press time, a total of 338 boats were reported to have been impounded.
According to Jose Antonio Gomez, an attorney of two victims docked at Island Global Yachting (IGY) Cabo San Lucas Marina, his clients had their vessel impounded when they were unable to provide the original Temporary Importation Permit (MTIPS) when SAT agents boarded the vessel and requested to see the documentation.
Although his clients were in possession of a printed copy of their 10-year MTIPS – a document that tourists must apply for with Mexican Customs before bringing any vessel across to Mexico’s waters, the agents responded by impounding their vessel.
“To be quite honest, I didn’t know you had to have it on the boat but apparently you do,” a boat owner whose vessel was impounded told The Log reporter. The source asked to remain anonymous in fear of retribution from the Mexican agency.
According to Gomez, his clients flew back to California, retrieved the permit and delivered it to the marina the next day.
“It’s been at least 30 days and nothing has happened,” the boater reported to The Log on Jan. 7. “My boat is still impounded.”
What transpired with the victims’ boat was linked to regulations regarding Hull Identification Number (HIN) display requirements that Mexico has recently began to strictly enforce. Two identical hull identification numbers are required to be displayed on each boat hull, the primary of which must be mounted to the starboard outboard side of the transom within two inches of the top of the transom, gunwale, or deck joint – whichever is lowest. The duplicate hull identification number must be affixed in an unexposed location on the interior of the boat or beneath a fitting or item of hardware.
Retrieving his original permit should have remedied the victim’s mistake and the boat should have been released, said Tourism Board Director Jorge Gamboa.
“[SAT agents] did the wrong thing,” Gamboa said. “The SAT agents went there and didn’t know how to read the papers.”
According to Gomez, there were 300 SAT and AGACE (a subdivision of the SAT) agents involved. His victims weren’t the only ones whose vessels were impounded at the IGY Cabo San Lucus Marina in December. Fifteen other vessels were reportedly impounded from the same marina that day.
“We have been in nine marinas over the last three years,” said another victim who asked to have their name withheld until the situation is resolved. “This is our third year to go back to Mexico and our first time to go to Cabo. We have never ever been asked by IGY Marinas for an importation document.”
“That document was at home in our safe with the original purchase papers of our vessel,” they added. “In each of our three years of preparing our papers never has that document been mentioned as needed.”
“Talking to the marina manager in Cabo, there were some boats that had no papers on them. Our boat’s being held at the K dock in Cabo San Lucas. We can’t fuel it or board it,” the victim added.
Francisca Olmos, sales manager for IGY Cabo San Lucas Marina, stated that the cited boats cannot leave the marina. “If someone does take the boat out they’re committing a federal offense,” she said. Olmos and other marina employees worked until 3 a.m. to help what was originally near 100 boaters from potentially being impounded, by furnishing importation documents stored in the marina’s offices.
When asked when the boats will be released to their owner, Olmos explained, “What [the SAT] are responding with is that they are working on it and it will take one to four months. But, they’re being so uncertain with the answers they’re giving me; I really don’t know when this will be over,” she added.
Boat owners may have their vessels back in their possession by Jan. 13, Gamboa explained. A meeting took place Jan. 8 between the Mexican Consulate General of Los Angeles and Mexico’s Minister of Tourism, where a resolution might have been reached. According to Gamboa, SAT agents may return to the Cabo marina early next week.
“We believe there will be a release on Monday, but I don’t want to say for sure yet,” he said.
Gomez’s clients will be returning to Cabo San Lucas this Sunday in hopes of retrieving their boat on Monday, Jan. 13
According to Cris Wenthur, an attorney in San Diego who has also worked with victims of the boat roundup, the SAT has been impounding vessels that have not been able to readily match the vessel’s HIN to the MTIP HIN.
“That is their law that you got to have [the MTIP] on the boat. I keep it on my boat at all times,” said Ken Franke, president of the Sportfishing Association of California “I’ve been watching the central government and I can say from personal experience that they’re clearly trying to go by the book.”
“As a former law enforcement officer, I believe you’ve got to look at the facts,” he added. “You don’t know what the facts are of each individual boat.”
Gomez noted that SAT representatives have said fines against vessels with improper paperwork will be fined.