STATEMENT BY THE GOVERNMENT OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS ON THE MARINE INDUSTRY: ENSURING SAFETY OF LIFE AT SEA
The Government of the Virgin Islands is committed to safeguarding the well-being of the people of the Virgin Islands and its visitors, while protecting the borders, facilitating legitimate trade, and ensuring compliance.
As a jurisdiction committed to safe yachting and safe shipping, enforcement agencies have been extremely busy for the past several months to complete compliance checks within the marine industry to ensure that maritime policies of the Government covering safety of life at sea.
The Customs Department, Labour Department, Immigration Department, Royal Virgin Islands Police Force, Trade and Consumer Affairs, Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, BVI Ports Authority, and Financial Investigation Agency have all been working closely to ensure continued compliance in the marine industry.
The team has been working extremely close with those charter companies not in compliance for several months to assist them in becoming compliant.
While conducting compliance checks on 16th March, the Government discovered some very concerning issues and over the past week we have had to fine a charter company for chartering without licences, cruising permits, and making false declarations to Customs officers.
Our compliance checks have revealed that there were companies disregarding our agreements and conditions put in place to ensure the safety of our visitors and the protection of Government’s revenues. Vessels which were not authorised to charter were on charter without commercial licences and cruising permits.
The Government had to recently detain approximately 46 vessels that should not be conducting charters at this time due to violations of the Commercial Recreational Vessel Licensing Act. 1992 and not meeting safety requirements for any of the vessels. The Government cannot lower the standards of the destination, making it unsafe.
In addition, we have had to detain 138 vessels from a charter company. Compliance checks revealed that one of the official documents were tampered with and this carries a $20,000 penalty.
The Government had to fine another charter company for a number of vessels which were detained in the Virgin Gorda marina and boat yard without any status to be in the Virgin Islands.
In addition to a number of violations under Customs laws (including the Commercial Recreational Vessel Licensing Act of 1992 specifically the 7 charter pick up maximum/year for foreign based charter vessels) these vessels, currently do not have any status in the Virgin Islands. Without status, duty must be paid unless vessels are commercially licenced.
The Government has been working closely with the charter companies for several months on a number of matters to ensure compliance and the health and safety of the users of the charters.
Many vessels were found to be offered for hire without having onboard essential safety equipment for protection of the BVI guests and clients. The equipment lacking in many instances are:
- Propane Detectors
- High Water Alarms
- Smoke Detectors
- Fire Extinguishers
- Life Jackets
Currently, there are approximately 184 vessels which are detained and will be secured by bond until they meet the requirements to be offered for hire.
The Government wants to ensure that local and visiting customers who vacation on the boats are safe. The Government cannot afford to put the lives of the captain, crew and clients in jeopardy; and run the risk of having a major maritime accident involving loss of lives in BVI waters – especially where non-compliant vessels were licenced for commercial use by the Government. This will project a negative image of the BVI commercial recreational sector as an unsafe maritime destination.
The Government is encouraging all users of these charter vessels before boarding ask the following questions:
- Does the Captain have a valid Captain’s Licence?
- Does the vessel have a valid safety certificate?
- Does the vessel have a valid Commercial Recreational Vessel Licence and Cruising Permit?
The Customs Department has extended the date to be commercially licenced until 15th April, 2022. If the vessels are not licenced by that date the duties become payable at 5 percent of the value of each vessel.
If the combined value of all vessels is in excess of $100 million the companies must produce a bond of 5 percent to secure the duty owed.
In addition to those violations the majority of these vessels do not meet the minimum safety requirements which will enable them to receive a safety and exemption certificate that would allow them to be considered home based charter vessels.
The Government of the Virgin Islands would like to thank the other agencies for their support and the public for sharing information of noncompliance.
Additionally, The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board is also working closely with the enforcement agencies and with tourism industry partners to resolve the current situation of non-compliance, so that guests may fully enjoy their charter experience and is exploring every possible solution to ensure future guests are unaffected.
The safety of all customers using vessels in the Virgin Islands is a top priority of the Government of the Virgin Islands.