Thursday, April 06, 2006

Croatia Online - Boat Show Special 3

Mike Forbes, the author of the article referred to in Boat Show Special 2 below, and Sailing Today, the publishers, have kindly agreed to allow us to reproduce the text of an article that appears in the April 2006 edition of Sailing Today.


Coping in Croatia by Mike Forbes

The Dalmatian islands of Croatia provide some of the best cruising grounds in the Mediterranean, some say the world. An area which boasts crystal-clear water, uninhabited islands, deserted bays with minimal tides and currents, has been one of the best-kept secrets of the cruising world. Charter companies have not been slow to exploit this and there has been a steady increase in the numbers of bareboats and flotillas plying the Adriatic coastline.

Croatia also provides a welcoming base for private yachts, especially from the United Kingdom. A mere two-hours flight to Split or Dubrovnik makes it an attractive alternative to basing a vessel in other Mediterranean or even Caribbean ports. Not, yet, being a member of the European Union means that VAT payment can be deferred for foreign-flagged yachts and prices have not yet reached the heights of other European maritime countries.

One sensible route to yacht ownership has been for several families to share the purchase and operation of a boat. Few boat-owners can afford the time to make the most of their investment, while the costs of buying, fitting out and operating a yacht are beyond the means of many families, especially those with young children. Given a written agreement, in our case with a clause not to lend or charter, yacht-sharing has brought regular holidays in the Mediterranean to many who might otherwise only be able occasionally to charter.

But in March 2005, these multi-owned boats received a nasty shock. The Croatian authorities, determined to crack down on private owners illegally undercutting the charter companies by inviting paying guests, imposed a limit on the number of people foreign-flagged vessels could have on their boat during the validity of an annual Permit to Sail. Initially this limit was set at twice the legal capacity of the boat, but they quickly increased this by 15% to 2.3 times capacity. Thus a 40 ft yacht with a capacity of 8 would be limited to carrying a total of 18 people throughout the year in Croatian waters. This number includes the owner and his family and a boat owned by, say, four owners would have to share this number between them. At first, the limit included children; in my case, my 12-month old grandson had to go on the List of Persons, the official inventory of the named crew and guests. Later in the summer, an edict from Zagreb, the capital, was handed down which stated that children under 12 need not be entered on the List. For us, seven places were freed up by this relaxation.

Lobbying of Harbourmasters, who authorise crew lists and issue the paperwork, the British Consul, the Ministry of the Sea, Tourism, Transport and Development in Zagreb and even the Croatian Prime Minister, resulted in no exemptions or relaxation of the Rules. It did, however, reveal two ways that we could navigate our way through the regulations. First, embarking guests outside Croatia, or disembarking them outside Croatia, would mean that they did not count against our limit. Also, people who stayed on the boat in a port or anchorage need not be on the List. This resulted in our changing crews in nearby Montenegro, incidentally introducing us to the delights of that country, hardly a valid aim of the Ministry which included Croatian Tourism in its portfolio. We also asked one of our guests to follow us around the islands by ferry so that we stayed within the rules. She took it well, but it was hardly the holiday she or we had envisaged.

There is little doubt that the Rule has been successful in reducing black chartering. Many yachts have left Croatia for other countries. According to the Croatian Ministry's web-site, in the first 8 months of 2005 their nautical ports registered 3% less visitors than the same period in 2004. For August 2005, the figures were down by 11% on 2004. The way the rules have been framed penalises legitimate multi-owned vessels, but the Law of Unintended Consequences is not a phenomenon restricted to Croatia.

We have tried to be constructive because we do not want to join the procession of yachts going south to other countries. We have proposed to the Ministry that people bearing the same surname as any of the registered owners be excluded from the List of Persons. Legitimate families would be protected while reference to passports could bowl out any guests adopting false names. We await a response, but we are, like many other owners, examining our options on where we base our vessel.


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