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Fed shutdown leaves Americans stranded abroad

By   /   October 3, 2013  /   News  /   1 Comment

Part 31 of 51 in the series Shutdown 2013
WHICH WAY HOME? Tentacles of the federal shutdown reach all the way to Grand Cayman Island.

WHICH WAY HOME? Tentacles of the federal shutdown reach all the way to Grand Cayman Island.


By Tori Richards | Watchdog.org

The U.S. Customs Service was established by the first Congress shortly after the Revolution, yet when their modern-day counterparts meet to hash over the budget impasse, they worry about emergency funding to national parks and Head Start – ignoring what men and women of George Washington’s era regarded as an essential government service: the plight of Americans stranded in foreign countries.

Just ask Florida businessman Michael McGhee.

McGhee was ferrying a yacht back to the United States from the Dominican Republic and pulled into the Cayman Islands Tuesday night with engine trouble. He found himself persona non grata and told by Cayman officials to “go back to the boat and wait” until the budget impasse is over and U.S. Customs computers come back online. This would allow the Cayman officials to check the U.S. passports of McGhee and his four-person crew.

“They said the U.S. does not have service at this time,” McGhee said. “I said, ‘Well, what does that limit me to?’ They said, ‘You have to restrict your crew to the vessel until you’re notified.’”

McGhee owns Black Pearl Marine Specialties, a boat retrieval and repossession service. He has traveled throughout the Caribbean for 35 years.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” he said, “and I’ve lived a long time. This is absolute insanity.”

PARADISE LOST: A look toward Seven Mile Marina, where Capt. Michael McGhee is docked, confined to his yacht.

PARADISE LOST: A look toward Seven Mile Marina, where Capt. Michael McGhee is docked, confined to his yacht.

Back here at home, meanwhile, the Customs operation remains open at Washington Dulles International Airport and presumably other national airports.

“They may be considered nonessential out there,” said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University.

And that’s exactly what it is.

“This area of the Caribbean is called the outpost,” McGhee said, conjuring up images of an America beyond the frontier, where citizens received sketchy services at best.

The federal government screeched to a halt Monday night, leaving only a few “essential” operations functioning. The House of Representatives met to push through emergency funding to keep national parks open and provide benefits for Head Start children, though the U.S. Senate has yet to act.

McGhee, however, said he wishes people like him would get a little love. He encountered engine trouble after leaving the Dominican Republic Monday night and found himself without electricity for nine hours in the Mona Passage, a major shipping channel headed toward Florida.

McGhee’s 128-foot yacht was invisible in the inky darkness while cargo ships the size of aircraft carriers bore down on him in a parade, jockeying for position like cars on a Los Angeles freeway during rush hour.

He managed to restore power in the morning and arrived in the Cayman Islands late Tuesday, out of food and in need of engine parts. Normally, an American is stationed at the island’s customs area to greet travelers. Instead, McGhee was greeted by local workers. They took mercy on the stranded Yanks, looking the other way when the crew left the boat briefly to eat at a nearby restaurant.

The next day was a different story when it became clear to Cayman officials the shutdown wasn’t some minor glitch.



“I said to one of the guys, ‘We are out of food,’” McGhee recalled. “He said, ‘I know you, go to grocery store — everyone else stay on the boat.’”

But they still aren’t home free.

“I’m under scrutiny when I’m here,” McGhee said.

Watchdog.org wanted a comment from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and called Media Director Mike Friel for comment.

His response?

“Due to the lapse in appropriations and the emergency furlough I’m currently out of the office. Please leave a message and I will return your call on my return to the office.”

Contact Tori Richards at [email protected] or on twitter @newswriter2

Part of 51 in the series Shutdown 2013
  1. Shutdown plan: Virginia will carry federally funded state workers until Oct. 4
  2. OKC National Memorial and Museum will stay open regardless of federal shutdown
  3. TN rep equates looming government shutdown with hostage crisis
  4. Government shutdown won’t shut down NSA spying
  5. 7 myths about a federal government shutdown
  6. Obamacare goes full-speed ahead as military pay enters uncharted waters
  7. Shutdown sparks New Jersey confusion about Obamacare
  8. Federal shutdown could furlough 57,000 Virginians
  9. ‘Business as usual’ for PA state government as feds prepare for shutdown
  10. Union plans rally as MN braces for federal shutdown
  11. Only government you don’t know about could go away in Illinois
  12. Shutdown? NM seems OK on the state level, but federal workers will feel the pinch
  13. WI congressional delegation soldiers on in Obamacare-shutdown battle
  14. Shutdown? What shutdown? States will carry on despite impasse in Washington
  15. McAuliffe tries to ride shutdown to victory in November
  16. NM delegation on gov’t shutdown: It’s the other side’s fault
  17. Panda Cam goes dark as government shutdown cripples cute
  18. U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin: I’m shutting down, too
  19. Missouri’s Wagner declines congressional pay during shutdown
  20. GIs take first battle of government shutdown
  21. The horror: Shutdown delays pro-Obamacare video contest
  22. Obamacare device tax ‘devastating’ to TN manufacturers
  23. Did The New Republic call for Obama to dissolve Congress?
  24. 4 reasons to cross the Potomac during the shutdown
  25. Are furloughed park employees trying to pick a fight on Facebook?
  26. Shutdown is ‘boom time’ for political fundraising
  27. Sorry Yogi: Reid calls move to open parks a ‘wacky idea’
  28. World War II vets 90, government shutdown 0
  29. Shutdown shouldn’t alter NM oil and gas bottom line
  30. FL tourism industry is magic, shutdown or not
  31. Fed shutdown leaves Americans stranded abroad
  32. Government shutdown brings relief to Main Street
  33. GOP’s Johanns: People mad, feel ‘duped’ into believing government shutdown would stop ObamaCare
  34. Chris Matthews’ weak grasp of government shutdown history
  35. U.S. senator turns total shutdown into partial shutdown
  36. Fed shutdown grounds plan to airdrop possibly harmful substance on TN land
  37. Ohio vets ready to storm World War II Memorial
  38. Some states battling with feds to keep parks, landmarks open during shutdown
  39. Federal tourist blockades called ‘vindictive’ in Virginia
  40. Veterans’ day: Ohio vets conquer World War II Memorial during government shutdown
  41. E-Verify: Is Obama happy to see right-to-work database go?
  42. Two battlefields raise the question: Who maintains Civil War sites?
  43. Contradictions abound in federal shutdown policy
  44. Park Service losing $76 million a day in shutdown
  45. Nebraska federal judge tells Congress to ‘go to hell’
  46. Shutdown renews call to move western forests, parks under state control
  47. How to make NM less vulnerable to federal gov’t shutdowns
  48. Are senators playing selective service in shutdown politics?
  49. Double dipping: Shutdown means double pay for Oregon federal workers
  50. No double dipping for furloughed federal workers in Virginia
  51. Not so fast: Federal workers in Wisconsin must repay unemployment benefits


Tori formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • yawlcat

    Oh no stuck in 7 mile beach Marina on your 128′ yacht. No food ? Poor planning.
    BTW Caymanian Customs and immigration are who let you into CI BWI NOT any US agency.

    There is no 7 Mile marina in Georgetown. Total BS. (I lived in CI in the 90s for awhile)

    Procedures for clearing customs “WITHOUT” a “Pre arranged Inbound Clearance”

    All guests and crew must remain on board until clearance is completed.

    If he was repo-ing a boat more than likely did not have port exit documentation which would also explain the lack of supplies onboard. Has nothing to do with Govt scale back.