When you need boat parts, nothing will make you appreciate being in a populated area more than this. A connection to one of our holding tanks recently failed. The holding tank is where sewage is pumped from the toilet. It is held there, hence the name holding tank, prior to being discharged into the ocean or removed at a pump out station. On Cream Puff, there is a copper pipe that extrudes from the holding tank. This is where the connection from the toilet occurs. The copper pipe has corroded and a small hole appeared. Even the tiniest hole in this realm of the boat plumbing is not acceptable. We started to smell, well you know what, and this sent me on a hunt for a leak. Unfortunately we did not have the necessary parts aboard to do the repair. Once again, I refer to my Murphy chart.
Luckily, we have two toilets aboard so our repair is not dire. We need to remove and replace the copper tube with a fiberglass tube. The parts to do this are readily available at any decent marine chandlery in the USA. We are not exactly in the middle of nowhere but, we are not in the USA. So, why not order them on-line and have them shipped to the Bahamas you ask? Stupid expensive, is the answer. We have a couple of options to get packages sent to us. Regular mail can take a very long time, up to two months. I looked into FedEx rates. It is over $100 to have a 2 pound package sent “economy” from Florida to the Bahamas. Keep in mind this is only 200 miles by air. The same package sent by air to California from Florida, some 3,000 miles away, is about $20. Needless to say, the locals do not use FedEx. Instead they use a guy with an airplane in Ft Lauderdale. He has been flying packages to the Bahamas for over 20 years. Bahamians purchase items on the internet just as you and I would but instead they ship it to the Ft Lauderdale address rather than their home. It is then flown to their island by private plane where they can pick it up at the ferry or airport. All this takes place for about $40. Guess which option we chose. Now, hmmm, who do we know in Ft Lauderdale that can gather the parts together for us?
When we first purchased Cream Puff, we lived in Atlanta, Georgia. Cream Puff was in Ft. Lauderdale for a while and we used the services of Steve Leeds. Steve has a first rate business taking care of boats. He also once owned an Amel (same brand of boat as Cream Puff). It turns out Steve had firsthand knowledge of the repair we needed to make. We asked Steve to go shopping for us. He agreed to put together a kit for us so we could make our repair. He then took the kit to the Ft. Lauderdale address for the plane ride to us. This is where things get interesting.
Since we are a transient vessel passing through the Bahamas on a temporary cruising permit (for which we paid $300), we are allowed to received parts for our vessel duty free. Or, so we thought. Duty free doesn’t mean tax free. The Bahamas have VAT tax. It is similar to a sales tax but VAT is added to all levels of any sales transaction, even business to business sales are taxed. I recently paid VAT at the ATM machine to make a withdrawal. The $5.00 ATM fee was taxed. The tax rate can vary and is subject to the interpretation of the customs officer clearing our package. The standard rate is 7%. But, in addition, local islands can add more tax (very similar to city tax being added to state sales tax in the USA). We emailed Steve a copy of our cruising permit. He made copies of all the receipts and include them with our cruising permit on the outer pouch of the package. Now you can start to see why we asked Steve to help out. Can you imagine sending the paperwork to Amazon and asking them to attach it to the outside of the package?
Our trip to pick up the package from the marina meant getting a cab to the airport customs office. This is where we received an education in not so friendly Bahamian bureaucracy. We were informed our package did not qualify as duty free since it was not engine parts. According to the local customs official, only engine parts needed for a repair were allowed into the islands duty free. From the Bahamas Department of Tourism website:
Is there a fee to import parts to repair my vessel?
Spare parts and replacement boat parts may be brought in duty free as long as they are intended for installation on vessels that have a transire (cruising permit). You must show your cruising permit to qualify for this. If spare parts are imported as cargo, a 7% stamp duty is charged.
Items should be marked: FOR MARINE USE ONLY.
For information visit: www.bahamas.gov.bs/customs
This is where they sort of have us over a barrel. We could see the box with the needed parts. Only one person is standing between us and our box. What should we do? We have three options: We can walk away and tell them to keep the package (for which we have already paid for the parts and shipping and for Steve’s time to buy the parts, assemble the package and deliver it to the airport). We can argue with a government official – we tried this and do not recommended it. We can pay the duty and not like it.
Unfortunately, since our understanding that repair parts for a vessel in transit were duty free, we had some additional items shipped to Steve and included in the kit he prepared. One of the items was a pretty expensive mast head light to replace a failed unit. Out total package for all items was $711.00 . We were charged $257.00 in duty for these items. Yes, you read that correctly! We were charged a 45% duty on most of the items. And, it gets worse. We were charged duty on the total invoice price. This included sales tax paid in the USA and the shipping we paid in the USA as well as the shipping to the Bahamas. Yes, we paid tax on tax. To add insult to injury, we were told to pay $257.29 in cash. The Bahamian Government does not accept credit cards. We were handed a receipt for $212.29. What happened to the other $45.00? We are not sure and couldn’t get an answer. By this time we were so totally disgusted with the process that had taken over an hour to pick up a small box; we just wanted to get into our cab (waiting outside for $20. Total cab ride, $50 for a five mile round trip).
Today, we positively feel like tourists being taken advantage of by the locals and government. In summary, all I can really say about this experience with the Bahamas Customs was the repair of the toilet, as smelly and nasty as it is, is a better experience than dealing with customs officials.