Yesterday afternoon, officers from Customs and Virgin Island Shipping Registry (VISR) conducted checks on vessels docked at The Moorings to ensure they had a commercial license, safety certificates, and insurance.
Speaking with ZBVI, Senior Customs Officer Sassoon Fahie said non-compliant vessels will be detained until they comply.
She said The Moorings is one of the territory’s largest charter companies and it possesses one of the largest fleets of boats. However, Fahie also said many of its boats have not met Customs’ policy requirements to a standard that would allow them to operate or remain in the territory.
“Our regulations changed in October, and we had a lot of symposiums on what is required to operate on a commercial license and what is expected of your vessel to operate here. These symposiums Moorings attended, and they were aware of what was supposed to be done in order to meet our compliances. However, these were not met,” the Senior Customs Officer said.
She said most of the vessels had issues with safety certificates or small commercial certificates. For compliance, the Shipping Registry conducts safety checks with high water alarms, propane detectors to ensure the boat tourists are boarding are safe to be in the territory’s waters.
Fahie said since the importers are the VISR, the laws must be enforced, and vessels must meet the requirements of all entities to continue operating.
The Senior Customs Officer said operators at The Moorings have said the supply and demand change along with the number of vessels they have has hindered them from being fully compliant with Virgin Islands boating policies.
“As you know, the traffic season started from November 4 and we are here in March. The Department has been lenient and understanding but at some point, the department must take charge and make it so that everyone has a level playing field. We have other operators that are compliant and it’s only fair the Moorings are complying,” Fahie said.
She said while persons are calling for the boats to operate without the proper paperwork, that cannot happen as there is no price for the safety of tourists.
“If we cannot ensure the safety of our guests when they enter the BVI, we are going to shut down the operation. We cannot put a price on someone’s life. We get a lot of revenue, but we must ensure that any guest or tourist that enters the BVI or go sailing in our waters are safe and the vessels we authorise The Moorings to use with these charters are safe. In terms of revenue, there is no cost to life,” Fahie continued.
The Senior Customs Officer said The Moorings is not the only place the operation is taking place as more than 60 vessels were detained on Scrub Island on Monday because of a lack of compliance to policy.
Fahie said the bigger charter companies have been using the supply excuse to not comply and Customs have been lenient but at some point, the agency must enforce its laws and regulations.
She said The Moorings knew of the situation beforehand and had time to regulate and reshuffle their booking systems to accommodate the checks by Customs. She also said the boats that are in the dock have been in the territory for more than six months and the charter company had ample time to sort out compliance.
Under the territory’s law, a $5,000 fine is applied per vessel for operating without a commercial license or for a private vessel without temporary importation or not imported.