The Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2014 passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday with a provision allowing V.I. charter boats to carry more than six passengers, according to Delegate Donna M. Christensen and Gov. John deJongh Jr., who both praised the development. The bill still needs to pass the Senate and be signed into law.
In a statement on the floor of the House, Christensen praised Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster and ranking member Nick Rahall for including language in the bill that would clarify a problem that has hurt the charter boat industry in the territory.
“This is something our charter boat industry has been advocating for at least 20 years," Christensen said on the House floor. She said when the Passenger Vehicle Safety Act was passed in 1993, it limited the number of paying passengers that may be carried aboard uninspected vessels. “Because of the existing rule, our once thriving charter yacht industry has migrated to the British Virgin Islands and estimates of revenue losses to the USVI economy range from 70 to 100 million dollars annually,” she told the House.
In a statement Tuesday night, deJongh said the vote brings the territory "one step closer in its efforts to regain the yachting industry’s leadership mantle that was once a vibrant part of the local economy."
The bill introduced in the House on Feb. 6 provides alternative compliance for U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations for certain U.S. vessels that are now restricted to six passengers while operating in the waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
DeJongh said there was no doubt that the initiative brought forward by the Marine Council to Shuster during the House Transportation Committee chairman’s November 2013 infrastructure visit to the territory “has resulted in this step towards equity for our charter industry and an economic boost for our maritime industries as a whole.”
The governor said this has been a long outstanding issue that has put the territory at a competitive disadvantage to the rest of region.
“This is the first of a number of actions we will initiate to let this market know that we are open for business and we want their business," he added.