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Old 05-05-2007, 04:29 AM   #1
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I just completed a delivery of a boat from Malaysia to Hong Kong. On the way I stopped in Subic Bay in the Philippines for refueling and re-provisioning, and I have to say I was more than a little disappointed.

I last visited Subic bay a couple of years ago. I saw a lot of potential in the Subic Bay yacht club back then, and I have been looking forward to getting back to see how things have been developing. The Philippines have always been one of my favorite places, and the island of Palawan is listed in my top 5 most beautiful places on earth. So all in all I was very much looking forward to this part of the delivery.

The disappointment started as soon as we approached the pontoon to which we had been assigned. Our pontoon in the Subic Bay Yacht club looked more like a junk yard than a place to dock a boat. But having a look around, I could see none of the other pontoons were much better. We tied up, after jumping around the piled up boat bits, and what looked like the worn out back seat from a minivan.

The next shock came when the Immigration, Customs and Quarantine "Officials" arrived. None of them were in a uniform, although we had arrived durring normal office hours, and only one of them bothered to produce any ID. All three of them refused to take their boots off as they climbed onto the boat (as a delivery skipper I get a bit anxious about any marks made to the boat.) And they demanded $300 USD in bribes before they would process our arrival. (The normal bribe required two years ago was $30 USD. I had heard it had gone up to $50 USD - $300 seems right out of control.) Of course they also required we sign affadavits to the effect that the officials had not asked for, nor recieved any money, food, drink, or gifts while processing our applications.

After saying goodbye to the "Officials" we all headed to the showers. I had told my crew that the showers at the Subic Bay Yacht club were an experience not to be missed. When we got there, we found the showers were not available to visiting yachties without paying an additional charge. Just a dollar each, but I've never heard of having to pay to use the facilities at a yacht club before. The pool was also an extra charge - but perhaps that I could understand. We also found that all the toilet facitlities are locked from 10 pm to 8 am. Since this marina doesnt't require holding tanks, I think this shows a definate lack of fore thought.

In total, the Subic Bay Yacht club seemed to be "going to seed" through lack of vision, or just plain mis-management. It was all quite sad when I think what potential the place had a couple of years ago. Add to that the blatant corruption of the government "Officials" and you have a good argument for bypassing the Philippines.

I was actually relived to be heading out of Subic Bay, and I plan to bypass it in future deliveries. I would be interested in hearing comments from others who have visited, or are planning to visit the Philippines.
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Old 05-05-2007, 09:15 AM   #2
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Very sad to hear.

Did you discuss the issues with the SBYC management at all? Besides the issues with the club itself, perhaps they are not aware of the "bribery" issue - this certainly does a lot of harm to their "business" and perhaps they are in a better position to put a stop to it.
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Old 05-05-2007, 11:07 AM   #3
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Good places go bad - Bad places go bankrupt.

Sorry to hear about what has happened to what was once a true Sailor's Utopia.

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Old 05-05-2007, 06:46 PM   #4
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When they were trying to get the bribe were they threatening at all?? What if you had refused to pay the bribe and just wanted to turn around and leave? Would they have given you any trouble do you think?
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Old 05-05-2007, 07:23 PM   #5
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@Atavist

I think that you'll find (in this situation) that they will have Customs exercise their right to search your boat - like it has never been searched before (can you imagine what your boat will look like when they're finished?). They WILL find something "wrong". It is "ransom" at it's best.

It makes me sooooo angry.

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Old 05-06-2007, 03:51 AM   #6
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Would they have given you any trouble do you think?
The implied threat was that if we didn't pay, the boat would be stuck there waiting for clearance for a very very long time - something you can't afford if you are on a delivery. Perhaps a cruiser would be willing to push the point, but I wouldn't recommend it. As lighthouse says, they have many ways to make you pay (taking your passports back to the office to check them out, and "losing" them is another ploy.)

The manager of SBYC was the same man I had met when I was there two years ago. I did voice a few of my concerns, but it seemed to go right over his head. The lack of maintenance of the docks, the extra charges, the concerns of visiting yachies, etc. were just not part of his mandate in managing the club. (which does beg the question - so what was his mandate?)

Sad, but I would recommend crossing the Philippines off the list of potential destinations. Hopefully it will all turn around at some point...
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Old 05-06-2007, 06:57 AM   #7
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Sad indeed.

The U.S. Department of State, Philippines Consular Information Sheet, can be viewed at:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_p...s/cis_999.html

Also of interst is the Travel Warning for The Phippines link in the box near the top of the page, or:

http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_p...w/tw_2190.html

My observation is that the general warnings are perhaps advised for anyone, with more caution required of "Westerners" and increased caution be used by American Citizens traveling there.

Reading many of their Information Sheets on various countries, one begans to wonder if it is safe to travel anywhere. But realizing they follow a standard format, and attempt to report recent past events, and advise what one may encounter. Further realizing staying at home comes with risks to.

I do not think it would be very wise to make a big issue of "I am Rright and You are Wrong", with a customs official, especially a corrupt one. The mandatory bribe may be much less of a problem than the alternatives; dumping every locker, every container of provisions, parts, and tools, taking your vessel apart one screw at a time, leaving the COM and NAV equipment in a heap....... They have a right to take it apart, to conduct a search. There are not obligated to put it back as it was.

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Hopefully it will all turn around at some point...
Hopefully sooner than later.
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Old 05-06-2007, 07:54 AM   #8
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This indeed is a sad story but, as the Philippines is such a beautiful area, I would be reluctant to cross it off the list because of incidents at Subic Bay. Does anyone have any information of alternative harbours?

Aye,

Stephen

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Old 05-06-2007, 05:37 PM   #9
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It depends on what you're after, but...

My personal favorite hang-out in the Philippines is PORT BONBONON located on the southern end of Negros. It's near Dumaguete where you can check in & out.

If you look at the Visayas region in the Lonly Planet guide you'll see countless safe anchorages and basic marine supplies are readily available in the larger fishing ports.

I've heard that Puerta Galera (on Mindoro) is nice...

I would avoid Mindanao and points south as the Abu Sarif seem to be making a growth industry from hostage taking.

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Old 05-08-2007, 07:59 AM   #10
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Following up on this topic we have done a little work 'backstage' to try to get a picture of what is happening in the Philippines. dnelson is a valued contributor and always presents well considered posts for our members. The Philippines is a good cruising ground although some southern areas are not recommended due to an increase in 'incidents' involving westerners.

I had planned to have my boat painted at Subic Bay, and was so concerned after reading dnelson's warning, that I contacted the SBYC to ask about facilities, official corruption and the state of yacht related infrastructure. I have received no response to my email, but will report any answer that comes my way.

However we have received very credible information which supports dnelson's post. It seems the best attitude to adopt when entering the Philippines is to ".....avoid Subic Bay like the plague....". It is suggested that fees are very much lower or non existent in Cebu, Batangas and perhaps Manila.

Subic Bay, the yacht club and cruiser's facilities such as toilets, showers and clothes washing are reported to be dirty, unhygienic, and in many cases operationally unreliable. The SBYC management is reported to be unresponsive to complaints regarding facility's maintenance.

It is also said that specialist marine trademen, provisioning, entertainment services including restaurants, and security at Subic Bay are of a high standard by comparison to many other parts of the country. So, the advice is to clear in through perhaps Cebu City, then make your way to Subic if that is where you want to go.

With 7000 islands, a largely friendly population, low cost and great natural beauty, the Philippines is a natural destination for cruisers. Check your government's travel warnings especially for areas around Davao and expect to pay bribes to officials from all quarters.

If anyone has information regarding official fees for entering, or advice which suggests bribes are less in any particular area, please post your information here.

Cheers

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Old 05-22-2007, 10:56 AM   #11
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I too am sorry to hear about your difficulties, and want to add some thoughts for cruisers. I married a Philippina lady and a recent month long vacation was my sixth trip to the country. I am also a cruising sailor, and my boat is currently in Mexico, possibly on the way to the Caribbean. I have crewed on South Pacific passages years ago, but never took a boat to the Philippines, and probably never would be tempted. Here is my thinking:

There are indeed over 7000 reef strewn islands and the area lacks reliable charting in many parts. It has also been the scene of piracy in years past, particularly in the south, but those risks exist on land too! And the hideous lack of ammenities and infrastructure to support cruisers is epidemic. Everywhere I have gone, I always try to check out the 'marinas' or ports, which are seldom more than a cove to drag ashore the shallow draft "pump boats" found everywhere. And the Philippines recently jumped to first place in the Asian Economic Council list of most corrupt nations, knocking Bangeldesh off the top spot.

Those are all facts that may discourage cruising, but the real reason for not wanting to take my boat there has nothing to do with the above. Simply put, there is no reason to sail there. The cost of living is so downright tempting, the availability of willing, friendly english speaking help abundant.

Why swing at an anchor or watch your expensive depereciating asset wither in the heat at a mediocre dock when for ten bucks and up you can get a room on the beach, with breakfast thrown in. Travel and lodging are an astonishing bargain, you can fly between islands for something like $30, and there is a vast network of accomodations and facilities that have been catering to european divers for years, at all price levels. You divers can swim with certain species of sharks only here.

If you absolutely must get onto a sailboat, a guy at Boracay took my wife, my daughters and me around the island on his small sailing trimaran for something like ten bucks. More often, we rent a pump boat for the day, the skippers family picks up fresh fish and charcoal with trimmings and we have a feast in some blue water Kodak perfect cove, all for price of a couple of movie tickets in LA. I mean, seriously, who needs the stress and overhead of bringing your own boat here?

In fact, I won't even tell you the name of my favorite island. It has miles of white sand, is hard to find, difficult to reach, not well known, and I hope it stays that way!

For the delivery skipper who must stop there, there is no substitute for forming a local connection. I am fortunate to have connections through my wife's family, although that only works near her district. That's how it is in the Philippines. If you are able to have a few social occassions with a Manila custom or immigration official, you will have an opportunity to do him a small favor at some point...for example, our low cost digital cameras are highly prized for some reason. All I am trying to say, if you plan to go there repeatedly, get that personal connection, and the rest falls into place. You may not approve, but that is how things get done there.

There is one exception to this whole rule...if you have an wooden boat that needs an interior refit, get there as quickly as possible and let them do it for you. You will be amazed at the craftmanship as well as the cost.

Cheers,

Charles Lane SV SHAMWARI
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Old 05-22-2007, 10:00 PM   #12
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Charles Lane SV SHAMWARI
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Welcome Charles,

Your observations add another perspective to the Philppines.

Like the name of your Boat "Shamwari" = Friend

Richard
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Old 05-22-2007, 10:35 PM   #13
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A number of cruisering friends sailing through the Philippines last year passed on information that they did not check in anywhere with Customs and Immigration. They anchored in outport places, towns and villages without any problems. They were willing to accept the risk and paying "fines" and deal with the situation if ever stopped and checked. Upon arrival in Kudat, Customs /Immigration there did not ask for Philippine clearance papers and caused no problems. Seems the authourities in Kudat are well aware of the corruption problem in the Philippines and turn a blind eye to this practice. Any P.I. cruising veterans have comments regarding this?
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Old 05-23-2007, 01:40 AM   #14
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A number of cruisering friends sailing through the Philippines last year passed on information that they did not check in anywhere with Customs and Immigration. They anchored in outport places, towns and villages without any problems. They were willing to accept the risk and paying "fines" and deal with the situation if ever stopped and checked. Upon arrival in Kudat, Customs /Immigration there did not ask for Philippine clearance papers and caused no problems. Seems the authourities in Kudat are well aware of the corruption problem in the Philippines and turn a blind eye to this practice. Any P.I. cruising veterans have comments regarding this?
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Hello BJ Smith,

For cruisers to follow friends' advice that cruisers in the Philippines can anchor in "outport" places, towns and villages without checking in anywhere cannot be supported as good advice.

The Philippines Coast Guard is active throughout the islands - A cruising skipper breaking the law risks arrest, the yacht being impounded and very heavy fines. The result will also impact on the crew who are found on the yacht without entry stamps in their passports.

It is not understood from the report as what Kudat authorities have to do with Philippine issues,

since Kudat is in Malaysia ?
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