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Boats seized in Mexico released after four months

Relieved to have their yacht back, Carol Brooks Parker and husband Mike still aren’t sure why Mexican authorities seized their 64-foot bluewater power cruiser Avatar last November, holding it for nearly four months at the Marina Coral in Ensenada, Mexico.

The 64-foot aluminum cruiser owned by Mike and Carol Brooks Parker was among 338 foreign-owned yachts impounded by Mexican authorities.

The Steve Dashew-designed aluminum cruiser was among 338 foreign-owned yachts that tax agents from AGACE — a division of the Mexican IRS — impounded in a sweep through 12 marinas in eight ports along the country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts.

AGACE, in a press release, says the dragnet’s purpose was to review the “legal status and ownership” of the yachts, which included checking HINs against those on the yachts’ papers and looking for violations of import tax regulations, mainly failure to pay $70 for a 10-year Temporary Import Permit in lieu of an import tax.

Avatar had just finished a 3-1/2-year cruise of Asia and the South Pacific — Indonesia, Fiji, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands, among others — after her launch at Circa Marine in Whangarei, New Zealand.

The couple turned the boat over to two crewmembers, who took Avatar through Asia and the South Pacific, meeting the couple three times a year at destinations for four to six weeks of cruising. The Parkers still work — Mike as an electrical and computer engineer and founder of a research center in Tucson, Ariz., Carol as a professional photographer and owner of her own gallery.

After their Pacific adventure, the couple had planned to cruise leisurely down the Mexican coast, watch whales off the Baja, transit the Panama Canal, island-hop through the Caribbean to Fort Lauderdale, and then cruise up the Intracoastal Waterway to Chesapeake Bay to meet family. It never happened.

Avatar had processed through U.S. Customs in Hawaii, stopped in San Diego for a couple of weeks, then proceeded to Ensenada for bottom painting. Before Avatar could leave Marina Coral, a busload of tax agents and three trucks carrying heavily armed soldiers descended on the marina. They checked the yachts’ HINs and papers — both original paperwork on the yachts and copies of it that are required to be on file in the marina office.

The agents seized 47 boats at Marina Coral. Avatar couldn’t leave the marina, but her crew could live aboard and come and go as they pleased while the Parkers, two lawyers — one on each side of the border — and U.S. consular officers in Tijuana tried to clear up the confusion and work on their and other vessels’ release to their owners.

On March 21, a 100-plus-page document arrived at the marina releasing all of the vessels still impounded there to their owners, Parker says. On Page 95, inspectors verified what the Parkers had been saying all along: Avatar had entered Mexico legally, had been there legally the entire time — and the Parkers are the lawful owners of the boat.

“Our TIP and other paperwork were in good order,” she says.

The agents seemed concerned about Avatar’s HIN, which is permanently etched as required by U.S. law on the starboard transom and inside the forepeak, Parker says. Avatar’s HIN matched the numbers on all of its paperwork, yet to satisfy AGACE’s concerns the HIN, along with those of many other impounded boats, were forwarded through the U.S. Consulate to the California Highway Patrol, which confirmed with the vessels’ owners and with their manufacturers that they had not been reported stolen.

Mike and Carol Brooks Parker were planning to cruise the coast of Mexico and transit the Panama Canal when Avatar was seized.

Parker says she believes the boats at Marina Coral were among the last released back to their owners. She still doesn’t know why the agents flagged Avatar and other yachts that were in compliance with U.S. HIN and Mexican import rules for impoundment.

“It’s a new agency,” she says. “Maybe they were trying to spread their wings and make a statement. They bungled it.”

Avatar’s detention for four months “ruined” the Parkers’ cruising plans, as did the seizure of other yachts for their owners. The couple now plans to cruise the Pacific Northwest this summer instead of traveling east. Parker isn’t sure she’d be willing to go back to Mexico — not for a while, anyway.

“I like Mexico, but when you get in a situation like this, you feel helpless,” she says. “At the beginning, we were not at all sure they weren’t going to keep the boat.”

June 2014 issue