Feb. 15, 2005 The long-beleaguered U.S. Virgin Islands charter boat industry is again under duress this time by the British Virgin Islands government.
On Feb. 1, the BVI government began enforcing safety requirements for term and day charter boats sailing from the U.S. territory to the BVI. The ruling also includes ferries.
"It's more an inconvenience than anything else," Pamela Wilson, director at the V.I. Charteryacht League, said.
Colette Monroe, chief of staff at Sen. Louis P. Hill's office sees it differently. She said she's received numerous calls from people expressing concerns about the situation.
She said BVI authorities have started boarding boats to make inspections.
Boaters must now get BVI boatmaster's and radio licenses even if they already hold a U.S. Coast Guard captain's license. They must also submit to inspections by BVI authorities to make sure their vessels have items like flares, life preservers and up-to-date fire extinguishers on board.
According to Wilson, charter boaters must pay a visit to the BVI's Licensing Office in Road Town, Tortola to apply. After the application is processed, they must call the office to set up a date for processing. Wilson said a phone call is necessary because BVI officials will not call charter boaters to make the appointment.
While the process is time consuming, it also costs money. Wilson said by the time all the requirements are met it will cost about $250 to $350 on top of the $100 application fee.
Carter Wilbur, manager at Flagship, a charter yacht agency on St. Thomas, said that while the smaller-sized charter boats are finding it easy to comply, those over 24 meters about 80 feet may not be able to meet safety requirements. He said the 150-page list of regulations calls for things like metal spiral staircases instead of the wood currently used in many boats. To make changes like this would cost many dollars and many megayacht owners are not willing to comply.
He said he hopes an exemption materializes for these large yachts sailing in BVI waters.
Wilbur said this latest change in BVI regulations convinced at least one St. Thomas charter boat captain to give up on sailing BVI waters.
"This was the bundle of straws that broke the camel's back," Wilbur said.
Instead, the captain heads westward to what's come to be called the Spanish Virgins the islands of Culebra, Vieques and the smaller islands off Puerto Rico's east coast.
Wilson said the BVI government did not publicize the change. Therefore, boaters were caught off guard.
Efforts to reach the BVI government were unsuccessful because the phone went dead when the main number was reached.
As if this latest wrinkle wasn't making life more complicated for U.S. Virgin Islands charter boaters who head to the BVI with their guests on board, Monroe said the U.S. Agriculture Department is now prohibiting megayacht crews from disposing of their trash when they return to the U.S. Virgin Islands from a trip to the BVI.
"It's insanity. They are forcing people to dump at sea," Monroe said.
She said in most cases megayacht crews buy their groceries on St. Thomas and would be disposing of items that originally came from there.
Efforts to reach the Agriculture Department were unsuccessful because no one answered the phone.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.