Chris Freer in his rowing boat

Lagos rowing boat incident with Maritime Police

Dear Editor,
As one of those involved, I read your February 18 report on the ‘Maritime cops’ with interest (as well as the Facebook response) and would like to make further comment.

I take my Covid rules from the government and local CML Balcão websites. It is clear that the rules are designed to prevent groups from forming in certain places like beaches and restaurants, alongside the rules for distancing and masks. All very necessary and common-sense laws to keep us safe.

There is, however, no published public information specifically about the sea, estuaries or the harbour. It is common sense that power-driven private or tourist boats with multiple passengers cannot operate because they are covered by the general rules. But the rules also make it very clear that ‘individual exercise is free’. Banning all water-based activities including solo exercise is unfair.

Cycling, walking with intent and dog exercise are allowed at anytime, anywhere so long as the participants obey the masking and distancing rules. Solo exercise on the water is, by its nature, very ‘distanced’ and is as valid as any other form of exercise. The Polícia Marítima has made a bad judgement in targeting solo water sports people who are often, as in my case, alone and hundreds of metres from the beaches and shores, and they are wrong to threaten people with fines and equipment confiscation in these circumstances.

In relation to the International Collision Regulations, the Polícia Marítima appear to ignore the rules. The 38 rules are designed to prevent collisions between any size of vessel whether at sea, estuary or harbour. An accidental collision can happen, which is where the COLREGS come in. When a collision is deliberate, it qualifies as ‘ramming’ and this is as illegal as if it were cars on a road. Although local authorities can bring in local rules of navigation, any such ‘by law’ is specifically bound to the COLREGS. You cannot use a boat as a weapon in a way that endangers the lives of other seafarers. In chasing small solo boards, canoes and rowing boats in their huge black power boat, the Polícia Marítima are frightening and abusing the laws which shield the seafarers they are paid to protect.

The residents of Lagos should be applauded for their strict observance of the Covid regulations, but common sense appears to have gone out the window in the waters around the town. But, if the Polícia Maritima gave us some respect, I am sure they would gain respect in return. They do not have to be bullies.

Chris Freer

The Resident received this response from the Autoridade Marítima Nacional/Capitania de Lagos:
“Following your request for information which received our best attention, we inform that on the afternoon of February 1, the piquete (emergency team) of the local command of Lagos Maritime Police detected a man aboard a rowing boat, around two metres long, near the entrance of the breakwater of Lagos port.

As part of the general duty to stay at home, as stated in Article no.4 of the Decree no.3-A/2021, of January 14, in its current redaction, the Maritime Police approached the man to inform him that rowing, although allowed as an individual outdoor activity, could not be carried out in the area where he was because, as announced by the Mayor of Lagos Council, all the beaches in the municipality and respective sea fronts are off-limits.

The Maritime Police vessel was clearly identifiable, with its sound and light signals on, and Maritime Police officers tried to speak to the man using a megaphone and instructed him to stop so that he could be approached for an inspection. The man did not follow the instructions.

After the efforts carried out to gain the man’s attention, he went around the vessel and deliberately disrespected the police agents, arguing that rowing was his physical exercise.

As it was not possible to stop him and explain to him that no kind of activities were allowed in that area, and in order to not compromise his safety, Maritime Police accompanied him until he reached the shore safely.

Maritime Police safeguarded the man’s safety the whole time, both at sea and on land, and did not ram his boat at any time.

Back on land, the man refused to provide his full name and address or any documents that would attest his identity and was warned to place his rowboat on land.

Maritime Police’s efforts have been mostly pedagogical and to raise awareness, warning people to follow the measures currently in effect to contain Covid-19.”