Friday, August 08, 2008

August 4, 2008 - Kupang, West Timor, Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

And now, for the rest of the story . . .

Last week I commented that the first day of the Indonesian clearance process had been a cake walk, but for the minor hiccup of having our boat impounded. How I wish that I could take those words back. The whole experience reminds me of one that a dear friend of mine, whom I'll call Jimmy, had lateraling from one law firm to another. Jimmy was considering leaving the comfy confines of his law firm, where the partners in his practice area were a fairly collegial bunch, for the opportunity to work in a shop across town with the best book of business in the city in Jimmy's practice area. The jump seemed like a no-brainer, except for the fact that one of the partners in the firm across town, whom I'll call Partner X, was notoriously difficult to work for. This guy wasn't just your garden variety demanding law firm partner - difficult to work with until you figure out to handle him or her. Partner X was actually possessed by demons who made his personality change from minute to minute. When Jimmy interviewed with Partner X the demons had apparently gone out for coffee, because Jimmy came back and reported, somewhat famously within our circle of friends, that Partner X was a pussycat. So Jimmy made the jump. By the time Jimmy's books were shelved in his new office across town, the demons had found their way back from their coffee break. As Partner X wrecked havoc on Jimmy's work and family life for the next two years, Jimmy would vehemently deny that he ever said that X was a pussycat. Luckily for Jimmy he never put the pussycat comment in writing, so while we could tease him, we couldn't really pin him down on it. Just as Jimmy was persuaded to ignore someone's reputation based on his own first impressions, so to did I ignore Indonesia's many centuries long history of corruption and bureaucracy based on a painless first encounter. Unfortunately, unlike Jimmy, I put my first impressions in writing, for all the world to read.

Lest anyone decides to join the Sail Indonesia Rally (the "Rally") because I implied that it made our clearance process here easy, what follows is a detailed account of the three ring circus into which the clearance process devolved, as I experienced and perceived it. Your mileage may vary. At the bottom of this epic post I outline the other options for bringing your boat to Indonesia. And as improbable as it might seem after reading the following, I explain why we would consider joining the Sail Indonesia Rally again if we ever return to Indonesia.

Under the Big Top

Tuesday, July 29th - We receive morning boat visits by Customs and Quarantine. How nice of them to come to us - sure beats traipsing all over town to find them as we usually have to do when arriving at foreign ports. We give out copies of our crew list and CAIT (Clearance Approval for Indonesian Territory - our cruising permit) and our original Australian Clearance papers. We make the officers very happy by producing our boat stamp (which I had made up at Lawyers Stationary in Boston before we left for $14) and making everything official. We are told that we and all the other vessels are being impounded because we failed to give 24 hour notice of our arrival and that our sponsors failed to fill out some paperwork. This is the first we've heard of the 24 hour rule and figure that Sail Indonesia will take care of whatever else went awry, because frankly, that's what we're paying them for. The only reason we joined the Rally is because it is the only way to legally enter Indonesia without being subject to a law that allows the Indonesian government to require us to post a bond of up to 30% of Mata'irea's value to guarantee that we will depart within 3 months time. That's a lot of money. And good luck getting it back when you leave. So several months ago we forked over $500 to Sail Indonesia to have their agents get us out of paying the bond and smooth our way through Indonesia's notorious bureaucracy.

On Tuesday we also make a late afternoon shore visit to Quarantine and Immigration at the CIQ (Customs, Immigration & Quarantine) office set up on shore for the Rally boats. We pay Quarantine 105,000 Rupiah (approximately $11) and they give us a green book that we are supposed to present to each harbor master as we travel through Indonesia. Immigration stamps our passports and asks for two copies of our crew list. At this point we think we are done with the paper work and are just waiting for Sail Indonesia to tell us that they've fixed the problem with Customs and we can get our impoundment seals removed. How silly of us.

Wednesday, July 30th - We hear from some other cruisers that Customs wants everyone to visit the CIQ office, even though we've given our Australian Clearance papers to Customs officers during their visit to Mata'irea. The Customs officers ask for a copy of the Australian Clearance papers. I tell them that I don't have any copies (we left Darwin as soon as we cleared out), and that their friends out on the Customs boat have our only original. The officer tells me to go get the original from his friends and bring him copies. I decide to wait to see if it is really necessary to give him a copy of something one of his fellow officers already has. As I move to leave the table, the Customs officer reminds me that I can not leave Kupang or remove the seal on my boat until our sponsors do the right paperwork, otherwise "we sell your boat." Lovely. But still, I'm trusting Sail Indonesia and their agents to take care of the problem.

Thursday, July 31st - The CIQ office has now turned into a CIQHMMA office. In addition to the three tables filled with Customs officers, Quarantine officers and Immigration officers, there are now tables for the Harbor Master and the Ministry of Agriculture. There are at least 30 officials in the room and they all want copies of everything. Kafka couldn't have come up with a more surreal situation. In a fit of high pique I head down to the copy shop and make 5 copies of everything anyone in Indonesia has ever given me. I figure that I'm wasting paper and ink, but this turns out to be a very prescient move.

Friday, August 1st - We learn that a letter agreement has been signed in Jakarta that will allow the impoundment stickers to be lifted from our vessels.

Saturday, August 2nd - Some Rally participants fill out the paperwork to have their impoundment seals broken, but we're off on a tour to central West Timor, so we can't do the paperwork until Sunday. Those that fill out the paperwork on Saturday only have to provide the skipper's passport number and one other piece of paper - I believe it was a copy of the CAIT - and pay 50,000 Rupiah (approximately $5)

Sunday, August 3rd - I'm impressed that the Customs officers are making themselves available on a Sunday in this very Christian and Catholic part of Indonesia. I arrive at the CIQHMMA office with pen in hand ready to fill out the documents that will allow our impoundment seal to be broken, only to find out that I need to provide four copies of every piece of paper I'd ever been given by anyone in Indonesia. Luckily I made the necessary copies on Thursday. But of course they were back on the boat. So while I stay in the CIQHMMA office and harangue a customs guy for 15 minutes in an effort to try to figure out why the process had changed so much since the day before, Sten scoots back to the boat to grab our bag of copies. It turns out that after the group completed their paperwork on Saturday, Customs made the necessary copies for them. But Customs is broke, and it doesn't have a copy machine (which explains why they asked me on Wednesday make copies my Australian Clearance, of which they already had the original, and possibly why they impounded us all in the first place). So Customs wanted to shift the cost back to the Rally. They told Sail Indonesia to make the copies. Someone affiliated with Sail Indonesia decided that it would speed things up if Rally participants brought their own copies in. Unfortunately, this change of procedure was not relayed to the participants on the morning radio net.

In addition to explaining why the process changed so much overnight, the Customs officer lets slip that "Sail Indonesia is blacklisted" and that "Raymond Lesmana [Sail Indonesia's agent] is blacklisted," which is how we all found ourselves impounded to begin with. In past years some Rally participants did not clear out of the country within the 90 days permitted by their cruising permits. So it has become more difficult for the Rally to get special exemptions from the bond requirement for Rally participants. It seems that this year, Lesmana, or whomever he subcontracted, did not take the necessary steps to allow us all to enter the country without getting impounded. During my star turn as a harridan, I also learn that there is no yacht agent in Kupang that the Customs office will work with. So without Jakarta's intervention on your behalf, there is no way to legally clear into Indonesia in Kupang. The Customs officer also claims that we all violated Indonesia's 96 hour pre-arrival notice rule - a dramatic increase from the 24 hour notice requirement we first heard about on Tuesday.

While I deal with Customs, Sten is off trying to fill our jerry cans with diesel, without paying the 20% surcharge asked for by the cabal on the beach. With the help of an Indonesian who works with a local expat that befriended us, Sten goes to the government owned filling station. Technically, since the Bali bombings, it is illegal to fill jerry cans in Indonesia. But everyone does. At the filling station, there is a whole line of Indonesians getting jerries filled for the yachties in the harbor. But the filling station refuses to fill Sten's jerry cans. Later that afternoon, the expat's Indonesian worker returns alone to the filling station with our jerries, but the pump operator still refuses to fill them because he recognizes them as belonging to a Westerner.

Monday, August 4th - While Sten is helping the expat rebuild an engine and the expat's Indonesian workers are filling old Indonesian jerry cans with diesel for us, our paperwork is processed and a Customs team comes out to remove the seal from our boat. I sign some papers, snap their photo (you can never have too much documentation) and ferry them to the next boat on their list. As soon as the sun sets, we pull up anchor to get the hell out of Kupang, a terrible anchorage, and head to Rote, which is hopefully far enough away from the Rally route to ensure that only a few other boats will be there.

Indo Options

For boats that are following in our wake to Indonesia, the Sail Indonesia Rally is one of three available options that we are aware of, each of which has various degrees of cost and risk associated with it.

The option at the most expensive, but presumably safest, end of the spectrum is the Rally. In exchange for the $500 Rally registration fee, you expect to nullify your risk of being slapped with an import duty on your vessel, a bond payment that you may or may not be able to recover when you leave the country. It took a few days, but in the end Sail Indonesia lived up to its end of the bargain.

The option at the opposite end of the spectrum is to stay far away from Kupang and clear into another port, such as Selmlaki (aka Saumlaki). Before you arrive, you must arrange for your own CAIT (Sail Indonesia does them for the Rally participants). Once you have arrived, the paperwork is apparently minimal, though Quarantine costs $23 (twice as much as in Kupang). There is no customs in Selmlaki, but they are happy to receive yachts and provide immigration and quarantine clearance. The local officials advise yachts to wait until they arrive in Bali to do their customs clearance. This is the cheapest but riskiest option. Yachts that choose this approach run the risk of being impounded somewhere along the line as they make their way towards Bali. We've heard rumors of a boat that was recently impounded in Lombok. However, for yachties that don't want to participate in the Rally, but want to see some of Eastern Indonesia, surf some of her undiscovered waves and check out the dragons, this is the only other option.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum lies a third option - heading straight to Bali and clearing in there. For a fee, Bali Marina and Royal Bali Yacht Club will both arrange for your CAIT and clearance into the country. As far as I'm aware, yachts that have cleared into Bali have never yet been asked to post a bond. There is a small risk that you might be asked to post a bond at another port of call after clearing into Bali, but the risk is mitigated somewhat by the fact that most yachts that go directly to Bali don't make many other stops in Indonesia before they clear out for Singapore.

To Rally or Not to Rally, that is the Question

So, after our first rally experience, would we join a rally again? Unlikely.

We prefer to make our passages during the best weather windows possible rather than on some preordained date that may not have favorable weather for passagemaking. This port of entry seems to have been chosen for its convenience for the Rally organizers, rather than for its suitability for yachts. The anchorage in Kupang is on a lee shore most of the time. When the wind gets up in the afternoon, there is no protection. The holding is terrible, so practically every day boats have dragged down through the fleet. But the worst part of the experience has been how some of the Rally participants have behaved - and I'm not even going to get into the solicitation occurring onshore. Meeting some of these boats individually they stuck us as lovely people. But trap people in a bad anchorage, where their home is at risk, and they can't do anything about it, then the worst is bound to come out. I'm as guilty as anyone. After holding onto my cruisy attitude for five days I finally lost it on Sunday and vented my frustration all over a poor Customs officer who was only doing his job. Usually people vented their frustration over the radio. Dutch guys were yelling about how the Rally is responsible for making us all criminals, English saying "lets all queue up," Aussies responding with "f* your queue," Kiwis chiming in with "can't we all get along," and I'm sad to say several Americans making complete asses out of themselves. Then there were the passive aggressive folks who would hold their mic open to drown out the statements of anyone they didn't agree with. Everyone was just stressed out and unpleasant. Because we prefer to choose our own passage dates, ports of arrival and company, we are not in a hurry to sign up for any more rallies.

So, would we join this rally again? As improbable as it sounds, given all the above: possibly.

If we were coming this way again, we would still join the Sail Indonesia Rally, because we feel that it is the least risky option as long as there is an Indonesian law allowing a bond to be levied against boats arriving in Indonesia. But, and this is a big but, we will not come anywhere near Kupang again. As lovely as the Timorese are, Kupang just isn't a safe anchorage, particularly with 120 boats in it. Thankfully, there is another option for future Rally participants. Friends of ours are participating in the Eastern Passage Rally, a subset of the Sail Indonesia Rally. They were not impounded when they arrived at their first port of call (I believe it was Selmlaki). And even better, there are only three boats participating in the Eastern Passage. At this point we believe that the Eastern Passage would have been a better option for us.

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