Thursday, November 03, 2011

Clearing Customs and MAF BioSecurity

It’s been a quiet week here in Lake Waitemata, where all the women are working their buttocks off and all the children are more annoying than average. The long hiatus from blogging, jotting down notes, tweeting, and acting like a civilized creature of the social media age felt good. It felt necessary and proper. However, now I’m ready to get back to work.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Don Quixote was dodging shipping traffic off the coast of New Zealand inbound to Whangarei. We had been motoring for several days in an effort to zip ahead of a truly nasty looking weather system. I have since learned from experienced Kiwis that our experience was quite common. On the Tonga/Fiji to New Zealand passage, a sailor frequently must choose between converting the vessel into a slow inefficient motor yacht or getting smacked around by an ugly weather system. So my advice to sailors planning that passage is to load a lot of extra fuel. We burned 50 gallons of diesel between La Paz and Nuka’alofa over 6 months. We burned 70 gallons of diesel from Nuka’alofa and Whangarei in less than 10 days. By the time we made landfall, we were running on fumes and wishing we had loaded more of the jerry cans.

As it was, we barely landed before a storm rolled over us. In fact, the wind began to pick up while we were on the quarantine dock. We had to hustle to get shifted into a slip before the wind topped 30 in the marina. I do not want to think of what was happening out in the open seas. The Georgia J following in our wake reported one of their most miserable nights at sea as they headed into Opua about 36 hours after our landfall.

Clearing through Customs and MAF Biosecurity was considerably easier and more rapid than we had been lead to believe. New Zealand’s biosecurity process has a reputation as fiercely protective, an agency whose broad mandate and list of proscribed items reads as “everything including the kitchen sink”. Fair enough, but in practice, what our biosecurity official seemed most concerned about were meats, dairy, and anything that could sprout. Beans, for example, only needed to be thrown away if it were possible to grow more little baby beans. Same with rice, polenta, and flour.

Even in the case of dairy, the rules in the guides read as though anything with a scrape of lactose would be categorically ejected. In practice, dried and canned milk products must be clearly packaged, labelled, and commercial. We had to throw away a few scrapes of opened cheeses, and we emptied the boat of the last of the veggie and fruit bits, freezer burned meats, and skanky snapper before making landfall. BioSecurity took our alfalfa seeds but not the sesame seeds, left us with all our various flours and grains, and checked the oven to make sure we weren’t hiding a half-roasted chicken (something he said he’d found more than once). He only looked in the bilges and lockers we notified him either had held or currently held food products. He looked at all our local crafts, checked for bugs and egg sacs, and then passed them back without comment or concern.

Now, BioSecurity did make clear that they have the right to be considerably more thorough and conservative. In some cases, the team does bring a dog trained to sniff out contraband. What considerably aided our clearance was that I supplied BioSecurity with a complete inventory of all items on the boat – including their location on the vessel – that could remotely be construed as falling under their jurisdictions. Mind you, this list included all diving gear and fishing tackle, hiking boots, snorkels and masks, crab pot, an inventory of native crafts skimmed from the markets in Mexico, French Polynesia and Tonga, and an exhaustive list of every food item we kept. By declaring everything, our agent could quickly and easily determine what needed his attention. It’s a lot of work, but it seems to make the entire experience much less harrowing.

We even declared our “controlled drugs.” It used to be that travelling with a well-stocked medical kit was illegal in most countries. Codeine, morphine, epinephrine, many steroids, and even some antibiotics are controlled drugs virtually everywhere. A sailor would have to attempt to “smuggle drugs” from one country to another and hope that if the narcotics were found embedded as they were in a sea of bandages, salves, and other medical equipment, the local authorities would look the other way.

At least in New Zealand, this is no longer necessary. Declare your medical kit. Supply it for inspection if requested. Do not hide, in other words. While we were clearly importing controlled substances, Customs seemed very understanding of the needs of globe trotting sail boats and not even slightly interested in taking our medications from us, let alone hauling us off to the nearest jail.

Next Post: But What About the Cat?


judith said...

Yeah we get photos!!! and yeah, you've made it through customs.

Anonymous said...

They're alive! OMG they're alive! OK, enough drama.
Nice to see you made it.

Andy in Mpls.

Anonymous said...

Finally we know you are OK! You left all of us armchair admirers hanging. So glad you are all well.