Even if the USVI is unable to persuade Congress to waive the six-pack rule for the territory, it still may be possible for some vessels that are not now allowed to carry more than six passengers to do so, according to U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Joseph Servidio.
Servidio, the Coast Guard's officer-in-charge of marine inspection for the Carribbean region, met Wednesday on St. Croix with Sen. Alicia "Chucky" Hansen, Rik Van Rensselaer and other representatives of the marine industry, along with Coast Guard Lt. Keith Pelletier. As chairwoman of the Finance Committee, Hansen has been holding hearings over the past few weeks on reviving the industry in the territory.
In a statement, Hansen called the meeting "extremely fruitful." Servidio, who also serves as commander of the Marine Safety Office for the Caribbean, elaborated Thursday on the discussions.
V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen has resubmitted a proposal to the Congress that would waive the six-pack rule, which prohibits boats not inspected by the Coast Guard from carrying more than six passengers. "If that doesn't happen," Servidio said, "an alternative is to have the vessels come into inspected status via 'equivalencies' in lieu of a waiver, to carry eight, 10 or 12 passengers."
He said the Coast Guard would sit down with boaters and others and look at such factors as equipment, number of crew members, the vessel's history and how it is operated. "For example, for some vessels regulations might require a particular piece of machinery for nighttime running, but because this one only operates during daylight hours, we could determine that it has an equivalent level of safety," Servidio said.
He cautioned that regional officers would have to consult with Coast Guard headquarters to determine how much authority they would have in such local matters.
"The biggest message," Servidio said, "is that the Coast Guard's Marine Safety Office, recognizes that the six-pack rule is an issue in the V.I. There are some things we can and can't do, but we'll see what we can do on the local level.
"Waiving user fees, drug tests and the like are far above our authority. But we may have some discretion in other ways, and we can make recommendations as well."
The discussions also touched on local fishing vessels, and Servidio said that "some local fishermen were apparently unaware that they could become uninspected passenger vessels by passing licensing exams."
He said the Coast Guard can send evaluators to explain to local fisherman the procedures for getting such a license and will provide proctors to go over exactly what the exam entails. There are also approved schools that enable boaters to obtain passenger licenses.