Information Officer II
Department of Information and Public Relations (GIS)
In an effort to enhance ‘guest experience’ and safeguard the yachting and tourism industries, Her Majesty’s Customs Department is doing its part to protect the borders of the Virgin Islands.
According to the Commissioner of Customs, Mr. Wade Smith, the Customs Department has heightened vigilance and is requiring guests and visitors to the Virgin Islands who are traversing the Territorial waters to present themselves along with their Government issued travel documents and their belongings when entering the different ports of entry.
Commissioner Smith explained that this has been the law and it is important for the public, especially industry stakeholders to be reminded of this longstanding requirement.
He added that the Customs Department is working diligently to create a culture of compliance amongst all its industry stakeholders. Therefore, this requirement will not affect all yachting agents and/or companies, once they are in compliance. Agents and operators who are deemed to be in good standing with HM Customs may enjoy some of the previous procedure privileges. However, the Commissioner said that the Customs Department reserves the right to board the vessels or that passengers present themselves upon request.
In speaking about his concerns, he explained that in recent weeks, the Customs Department in collaboration with other Government agencies in the Virgin Islands have seen increased reprehensible activities in the Territorial waters and noncompliance with the Customs Management and Duty Act, Commercial Recreational Vessels Licensing Act 8 of 1992 and Cruising Permit Ordinance.
In an example, Commissioner of Customs, Mr. Wade Smith said that he has seen an increase in commercial vessels arriving and cruising in the Territorial waters without the proper licences.
He said there is a growing trend where boat captains are being hired via social media and are operating without the proper licences and work permits.
Mr. Smith explained that in the past, Customs officers have used discretion and have been lenient in allowing only boat captains to disembark vessels and to take with them all the passports to declare the passengers. However, after conducting random audits they had identified that some captains were not accounting for all the passengers on the vessels.
He said this meant illegal entry in the Territory and a loss of revenue along with further violations of the rules and regulations of the Department of Trade Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs, Immigration and Labour departments.
“There are too many instances of noncompliance, and therefore, it was imperative to impose this procedure, which has been in place since the inception of Her Majesty’s Customs Department,” the Commissioner said.
He further explained that while he is aware of the concerns by different stakeholders regarding the need for all persons to disembark the vessel, he is assuring persons that this measure is important for the safety of all and to enhance the guest and visitor’s experience. He and his team are working closely with the BVI Tourist Board to ensure that visitors have an enhanced guest experience.
“The primary objective of what we are doing here is to enhance travel experience, and at the same time provide a safe, reliable, efficient and seamless process of facilitating our tourists and guests throughout the Virgin Islands borders. This is our top priority,” said Mr. Smith.
Commissioner Smith is encouraging boaters to become familiar with the Customs legislations and the other laws of the Territory.
The Commercial Recreational Vessels Licensing Act No. 8 of 1992 section 3 (1) states that no person shall offer for hire, for payment or for reward any unlicenced commercial recreational boat for use in the Territorial waters whether the boat is foreign or local.
The Cruising Permit Ordinance also states that no charter boat shall cruise in the Territorial sea without first obtaining a cruising permit from the Customs department.
Commissioner Smith said agents and marine charter companies should ensure due diligence by contacting the Customs Department at (284) 468-6801 to get information on the standard process of obtaining marine licences and cruising permits.
He added that the department is in the process of producing a Customs Procedure Manual that will aid in assisting boaters with meeting the requirements of the regulations.
Mr. Smith is recommending that agents and marine charter companies utilise the Sail Clear on-line service at www.sailclear.com by submitting pre-arrival notification to the Customs Department.
Sail Clear is a service available for use by yachts and other pleasure craft operators who wish to submit their Customs declarations in the form of electronic notifications, prior to arrival.
This pre-arrival notification will allow for officers to use their discretion in carrying out necessary risk assessment procedures when agents and marine charter companies enter and update information about their vessel or vessels, crew and passengers.
The Customs Department remains committed to protecting the Territory’s borders and facilitating legitimate trade efficiently, effectively, and economically in order to safeguard its well-being of the people of the Virgin Islands.