BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – OWNER and captain of the Sea Hustler, Winston Skeete has called off his final trip to St. Maarten for the Christmas season due to, what he alleged, harassment meted out to him by the St. Kitts and Nevis Coast Guard.
The vessel was scheduled to sail for St. Maarten at mid-night (Dec. 19) but Skeete has cancelled the trip and revealed to SKNVibes the reason for his decision.
The captain said that money was not the issue but the harassment meted out to him and the passengers was the primary reason for his cancellation of tonight’s trip
He added too that this was his last planned Christmas trip to St. Maarten and that the 150-plus persons who were to travel with him would all be refunded their monies.
“Well, I will be giving them back their money to avoid confusion and all of that. I am not even looking at it like I’m losing money…I will lose passengers. I’m in trouble and if you can’t stand up for something then you will go down for nothing.”
Skeete claimed that members of the Coast Guard had harassed him and the passengers earlier today when they were returning from a shopping trip in St. Maarten, and it had caused the disgruntled passengers to make some unsavory remarks that could affect his business.
“The thing is the persons that went on the boat said that they would no longer make such trips to St. Maarten with me. They said, ‘We are not going back on with you, we not coming back!’” Skeete explained.
“I know that it is part of their mandate to carry out checks on vessels arriving in the Federation, but why me alone?”
Skeete claimed his vessel is the only one making such trips to the neighbouring island that is being harassed by members of the local Coast Guard.
When contacted, Public Affairs Officer of the St. Kitts-Nevis Defence Force, Captain Kayode Sutton told SKNVibes that based on information he received “the Coast Guard did not stop the vessel from going to wherever they have to go but the Coast Guard would have to carry out its routine security details on any and every vessel. No vessel is specifically targeted”.
He stated that “the Coast Guard does not have the authority to stop any vessel from going about its legitimate business, provided that it operates within the confines of the law”.
“We would continue to stop and search and we would continue to carry out our mandate,” he added.
The Sea hustler is one of several vessels that have been transporting passengers and goods to and from St. Maarten, especially during the Christmas season.
Currently, many people are capitalising on the tax breaks being offered by the government on the importation of gift packages of food imported into the twin-island Federation during the month of December.
Gift packages of foodstuff are allowed the first 400 pounds free of duties and taxes brought in by non-commercial importers and travellers. This is equivalent to four jumbo barrels and a duty free allowance of EC$540 or US$200 off of the CIF value of other items.