We are British tourists on a British registered yacht currently undertaking our second circumnavigation. We have visited over 80 countries and have been full time cruising for over 20 years. We contribute articles for European sailing magazines and cruisers internet forums. We thought you may be interested in our recent negative experience while in Samoa.
As background, we arrived in Pago Pago American Samoa a month ago knowing that the harbour has a bad reputation for poor holding, dirty water, smelly fumes from tuna cannery and we only planned to spend a few days there while we collected our post. Despite the many drawbacks of Pago Pago harbour, the people of American Samoa were a delight to be with. They were helpful, friendly, courteous and we ended up staying for three weeks. During our stay the American Samoan people constantly warned us about visiting Samoa as there had been high crime, a recent brutal rape of an Australian tourist, and theft there. As well seasoned travellers we had heard all these tales about neighbours before and so were not unduly concerned and were looking forward to spending at least a month in Samoa to see the sights of Upolu and Savai’i. We knew from articles on line there was a marina that had received negative reports on Noonsite and other online forums. We phoned the Apia Marina before leaving American Samoa to check on current rates.
When we arrived we were instructed by Apia Port Captain to anchor in the bay as it was Sunday and the marina was closed. We were instructed to fly the yellow quarantine flag and stay aboard the vessel. We had prior to anchoring gone close to the marina entrance and saw that it was crowded and very tight to manoeuvre and was also disappointingly close to a busy road with noisy restaurant bars. We do have a portable depth sounder that we planned to use in the dinghy to sound out the marina depths on the entry and berth so that we could check that our yacht could safely get into the berth as we ideally would have liked to spend some time on the marina to wash the boat down and have a secure place to leave the boat while we hired a car and travelled to Savai’i. In marinas where the berths are shallow we would not just blindly go into a berth without personally scoping out the depths as it is our decision on whether our vessel can get into a marina safely with sufficient depth and whether we choose to go onto a marina or not.
After we cleared the health inspection, the marina boat came out and the official asserted that it was now ‘mandatory’ under Samoan law for all visiting yachts to use the private marina to berth.
He issued all anchored yachts an Apia Marina Services Ltd charge sheet with Apia Harbour rules on it which should have been headed up ‘the Manager’s law’. For yachts anchoring out in the bay the marina dinghy dock fee was $200 ST per week and not the ST$50 we had been quoted. A 400% increase. We attach the old marina fee sheet and then the ‘ REVISED’ marina fee sheet so that you can see that different yachts in Apia at the same time were given different rates.
The Manager did finally agree after much unpleasant arguing that in our case as he had quoted the ST$50 by phone that he would honor that so we only paid like the other 3 yachts already anchored in the bay the old fee of ST$50.
As a private business who is leasing the marina from the Samoa Port Authority then we agree that the Manager can charge what he likes for using the marina dinghy dock but this charge must be applied fairly and consistently.
He insisted that the American yacht anchored in the bay should pull into the marina berth but the yacht was not able to use reverse gear so was unable to safely manoeuvre into the marina. We knew the American had engine problems as in Pago Pago as we had gone over with our dinghy along with another dinghy so that the Americans could re-anchor using dinghies to power and push the yacht to another anchoring space.
We had sailed over from American Samoa with them so that if they had problems entering Apia Harbour we would be able to tow them in. Despite telling the Manager this he had what we can only describe as a psychotic rage where he ran down the marina dock and started swearing at the American yacht captain who had pulled into the dinghy dock at the same time as ourselves.
The American offered to pay ST$50 landing fee which was what the other anchored yachts were paying but he continued to be aggressive and told the American that unless he paid the NEW ST$200 fee, then he would cut or confiscate the dinghy if it was left there.
The argument was so loud and abusive that other yacht crews on the marina came out to see what was happening. The Americans used the dinghy dock at the marina only that one-day as after ‘Psycho’ episode we would use our dinghy to drop the Americans off and collect them at the Aggie Grey Beach so they could avoid any further hassle.
During the 9 days that we stayed in Apia Harbour we saw the marina boat come out and hassle the American yacht several times and we were astounded to discover that the Manager on behalf of the Samoa Port Authority issued legal proceedings against the Americans and even more surprised that the Samoa Supreme Court placed a Departure Prevention Order (D.P.O) preventing the Americans from leaving the country.
All over a dinghy dock fee of the ST$50 which he refused to accept from the Americans.
The lawyer who issued the D.P.O writ should be investigated by the Samoa Law Society and Supreme Court for misconduct in issuing proceedings against a tourist over such a trivial amount without ascertaining the full facts of the matter and for wasting valuable Supreme court time and the firm should send a written apology to the Americans for treating them so badly. The American Consulate had to be involved, the C.E.O of the Samoa Tourism Authority was involved as was the C.E.O of the Samoa Ports Authority, and the Supreme Court …….the whole unpleasant incident was a total farce and waste of everyone’s time over several days.
We do not know what local connections this man has but he obviously has a connection very high up in the Samoan government as it would appear that he can make up whatever rules and charges for visiting yachts that he likes.
There was a mysterious US$100 (US DOLLARS not Tala) one off payment they were trying to charge on the ‘new revised’ sheet. When we arrived we met another yacht clearing out of Apia at the port authority office and they could not find anyone at S.P.A to pay this mysterious fee to.
Once the Americans had been issued the D.P.O, we sent emails to the Samoa Ports Authority to ask them for the tariff charge and written regulation as we did not believe that the US$100 was a genuine fee nor did we believe that it is Mandatory for yachts to go into a private marina when there is an approved small craft anchorage available in the harbour that does not impede commercial vessels.
We spent three hours at the Samoa Port Authority and went around from department to department and no one was able to show us the written regulation and tariff sheet. The next day we went again and this time met with the new C.E.O of Samoa Port Authority who eventually confirmed that due to an ‘oversight’ when the Apia Marina asset was leased out to Apia Marina Services Ltd, that the port regulations were not amended by the Samoan Legal Team and were ‘currently with the attorney general office for revision’.
The new C.E.O confirmed there is no official regulation under the 1998 Samoan shipping Act or subsequent revisions that states it is mandatory for ALL visiting yachts to use the marina services and we were entitled to anchor in the bay if we wished. The same “oversight” meant that there is no USD$100 fee payable under the published Port Authority Dues and Rates Notice 2016.
The new C.E.O of Samoa Port Authority assured us that he is keen for this to be resolved by the correct government minister and legal team and once the new regulation and fee has been passed then he will update the S.P.A website so that future visiting yachts can see there is a genuine and transparent fee structure.
In the meantime, both the C.E.O of S.P.A and the C.E.O of S.T.A will meet with the Manager of Marina about the recent incident and we would hope that the Manager would issue a written apology to the Americans.
Talking to the other visiting yachts that were staying on the marina we discovered that the marina showers were a cold water weak trickle and one yacht actually had to repair the toilet. Another yacht complained about the cleanliness of the facilities and they were apparently told ‘so what do you expect for ST$60 per day.’ On Friday night late there was a drunken fight between two local Samoans on the marina dock and a bottle was thrown and smashed in a yacht cockpit. Most professionally run marinas have a security gate so that only yacht crews and invited guests can access the dock but Apia Marina has no security whatsoever.
When we paid our dinghy dock fee we tried to point out to the Manager that his aggressive strong arm approach, and lack of transparent fees and regulations was not the best way to encourage yachts to stay in Samoa and that we ourselves were now going to clear out and go to Wallis and Futuna instead of staying for our planned month. To which he replied ‘I don’t give a **** I can do what I like when dealing with scamsters.’ The marina staff were polite and pleasant but their boss is a raving lunatic who should not be allowed anywhere near tourists.
The Samoan Tourist Board put on such a fabulous cultural show that explained the faa’a samoa ways and are obviously working hard to promote Samoa. The enjoyable days out seeing the local sights and eating out at many of the wonderful restaurants in Samoa were no compensation for the downside of dealing with the Marina officials and we will be reporting on the forums about our negative experience accordingly.
The Manager’s parting comment to us was that he looked forward to reading our articles…well we hope he and his mysterious business partner read this and start to invest in the marina facilities and treat visiting tourists with respect and not just see them as cash cows to be abused and milked dry.
Paul Liz Stuart