Bureaucracy Galapagos Style

Martin and Elizabeth Bevan
Fri 28 Feb 2014 19:47

Position           00:53.62 S 089:36.92W

Date                2359 (Local – Central American Time) Friday 14 February 2014


We thought the experience of the arrival procedures in the Galapagos worthy of a posting.  They appear to be a combination of the evolutionary progress of an overwhelming bureaucracy and the survival of the fittest.


New more strict rules were enforced the week before we left Panama and everyone, including the Rally team were in the dark as to what might happen until the Rally arrived.  Request to defer the new inspections until after the Rally had been through the islands were declined.  What the rules actually achieve given the nature of the three busy harbours that we are allowed to visit with our yachts, is debatable.


Our arrival inspection involved boarding by eight officials, each with a different area of interest.  We were quizzed on everything from the number of GPS’s – the required answer is 2 apparently – size of outboard engines, the amount of fuel we had and what we might wish to purchase and of course the size of our black water holding tanks.  The Mate was incensed that they confiscated four mangoes.  The Skipper was relieved that they went on their way rejoicing to repeat the same procedure elsewhere.


What was more ominous was an underwater inspection by divers who both photographed the hull and took samples.  24 hours later the effect of this hull inspection became known and 19 out of 40 boats were declared to have prohibited, but unspecified, organisms lurking on their hulls.  Fortunately we were not one of the selected boats. 


The selected boats were required to go 60nm outside the National Park boundary and that involved an 85nm trip, 170nm round trip, to get there.  A team of divers then went out in an 18 foot skiff and started cleaning hulls whilst the yachts bounced around in the open ocean. Divers became seasick and probably concussed, they had to return to port to refuel overnight.  The last boats to be cleaned had had to wait nearly 48 hours offshore by the time the job was complete.


The World ARC team were fantastic throughout, organising the divers and cleaning and as far as possible protecting the fleet from the worse effects of the bureaucracy.  The Rally Manager, Paul Tetlow, accompanied the divers on each day to ensure that the procedure worked as smoothly as possible and to keep order.  The re-inspection, much to everyone’s relief, found the boats to be “clean”


It is also worth pointing out that we are only allowed to sail to three ports whilst in the islands and a strict pre-declared timetable must be followed.  Clearance “zarpes” are issued just before you leave and must be surrendered immediately on arrival at the next port.  We can see the point of these restrictions as access to most of the islands is strictly controlled, even for tour operators, in order to preserve the fragile environment.  Our subsequent four day cruise with an operator demonstrated the benefit from not allowing greater access for unsupervised boats.


Jimmy Cornell’s advice to visit the Galapagos by aeroplane could not have been more pertinent.  Notwithstanding all of this, it is a great place to visit.