British Virgin Islands

Friday, Dec 03, 2021

LETTER TO EDITOR: Government sinking BVI’s charter boat industry

LETTER TO EDITOR: Government sinking BVI’s charter boat industry

Dear Editor,


If you’re a charter industry long-timer, you know who I am.

There have always been those who think the law doesn’t apply to them. All of them need prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law.

The BVI has been loosing its tourism faster and faster over the last decade.

The BVI government has never understood where the tourist dollars come from. It’s always been about the cruise ships. They have barely understood the villa industry. (I have never understood why the villa industry has not teamed up their political vote, they would outnumber the taxi vote and rule the country. Just saying).

Because there have been more locals involved, they’ve sort of had a grasp on the bare boat industry but definitely inflate its worth over the term charter revenue.

Also, there are changes coming about that is finally going make charter boats be compliant with the same rules that EVERY other vessel in the BVI has to comply with and still turn a profit.

Yes, that’s right folks. All those bare boats out there don’t have to comply with anything! So long as I carry the safety gear on board, a bath tub is compliant! On top of that, they have been able to roam freely between the islands pre-COVID without paying the fees that term charter vessels have to enter and leave the territory.

Hundreds of charter boats before


There used to be hundreds of term charter boats. Boats would fill the docks beyond capacity for boat show, boats would have to anchor out or rent space over at the moorings dock and ferry brokers over because there were too many boats but not enough room.

This year what was it? Eight boats!

My one vessel turned over five to six hundred thousand dollars per year.

Three to five hundred thousand of that stayed in the BVI. Multiply that by the 250 boats lining up to get in the boat show. Now multiply it by eight. Even the government should be able to work out that, that isn’t a good thing.

There has been many damming stories written by world-class journalists at world-class papers, forums and other media. Stories of corruption, not only within the government but officials corruptly interacting with tourists. Stories of mass drug trafficking, cartel operations, corrupt police, and Customs.

Overrun by cruise-shippers


About eight years ago, I read an story on ‘Natures Little Thoroughfare’.

It was a take on Natures Little Secret. It was an article that basically touted how the BVI was completely overrun by cruise ship passengers and it was simply not worth the hassle for either land-based or boat-based vacations anymore! It was written by a boater in a boating magazine.

Tourist are being woken by people with assault rifles and dogs. I remember the first time I saw someone with an assault riffle around there neck. I shivered and thought WTF am I doing here. That thought is still burned in my memory.

I get it. There WILL be crews around without permits. There always is and always will be because if there was not, the term charter industry as we know it will not exist because, I repeat, it is not possible to run a business where it takes six to nine months to replace who might be you’re only employee period.

But, really, what do you think they are going to do, grab their AK47 and open fire on you? Get over yourselves! It doesn’t make you have a bigger phallus having a rifle around your neck, idiot.

Clueless


Boats have no idea of what’s going on. The Tourist Board has been telling the public to come visit for ages. But Customs have not gotten the email yet. Nobody knows what’s going on. I do know of a vessel who got in, though, at West End by presenting cash!

I owned and operated a charter vessel here for two decades. I am now much more involved in the USVI side. I was the first vessel ever involved with the entire shipping registry just because of a chance meeting with John and David at a coast guard meeting when the registry was not much more than just them.

I was the first vessel in the BVI to comply with any sort of regulations. I paid my regulation fees for a decade while I watched the ferries not pay because they could not comply yet.

I have always been in the forefront of trying to always be compliant. I have paid my 1800 bucks a year for decades that was introduced decades ago in lieu of paying import tax on the vessels even though my vessel was fully imported with all taxes paid.

I have been at Road Town for the import taxes schedule when picking up a watermaker from the USVI that was delivered by ferry. I showed the Customs guys the ‘WATERMAKERS AND WATERMAKING EQUIPMENT ZERO IMPORT TAX’.

Nope, you’re paying 20 per cent or it stays here. Meanwhile, locals are taking tens of thousands of dollars worth from their weekend USVI shop through free.

I have been told by Customs that I have to pay import on an anchor because they can not determine that its for marine use. Same with marine air cons. It has never been easy, in fact it’s impossible.

How can you run a business when that business has contracted dates to comply with yet if one of your crew either dies, breaks a leg, mother dies or turns out to have a cocaine habit or any of the dozens of reasons crew move on to somewhere else, it will now take you six to nine months to replace them with another permitted white person!

That’s right, Immigration. Islanders do NOT want to work on term charter boats. Never have, never will. Of probably 200 ads I have placed in the paper, zero have been answered by a local.

I get it.

Slaves to our boats and guests


We are told lie to government officials about how many hours we work.

We get up before our guests do, we eat on the job, we get zero breaks, we have to have 10 different job titles throughout the day, we don’t get to bed till after we have finished cleaning up AFTER the last guest goes to bed and we get up every time the wind changes direction or wind speed in the night. Yes, we are slaves to our boats and to our white guests!

We don’t have a cushy 9-to-5 jobs in a/c with scheduled breaks and no labour, no islander wants our job.

How do you think you could operate, Immigration, if every time one of your employees were either fired or left of their own accord, that you could not replace that person for six to nines months, then complicate your life by only opening your doors for six months per year? Then you have 20 other requirements from other government departments that no body has a clue exist. That is running a term charter boat in the BVI.

Megayacht industry will never happen!


The BVI has for many years been trying to rebrand as a megayacht destination at the cost of all the other boating sectors.

What most people do not realise is the bigger picture. Firstly, I do have involvement in the megayacht industry and I can tell you that it will never happen. You either have the destination or you don’t. The BVI has some of the—no, I will change that to possibly the best chartering waters in the world. But the waters are not megayacht waters.

It does not have megayacht anchorages, it does not have megayacht repair facilities. The country is to hard to get in and out of. It does not have the shopping, level of entertainment or anything else that crews on megayachts want. The captain and his crew actually have a huge say in where a megayacht goes. I worked on a megayacht, earned fantastic money, had everything in your life paid for by your boss, had access to some of the best toys in the world, ate fine foods and wines on board often and have the tab picked up in some of the very best restaurants in the world. So, would you base yourself in East End harbour or Monaco where his dollars actually go further? I know which one my son bases his influence on—his captain. It’s the same as the captain’s wife and the rest of the crew do.

Owners do not arrive at somewhere like the BVI in their yachts. They don’t have time for that. They rather fly in with their jets than get driven over crappy roads through East End’s back yard to their yachts.

Then what, lunch at Bitter End or Peter Island? Well, that’s the BVI done for a megayacht at 25 knots! Next!

I remember when Dave Smith and John first looked in the engine room of my boat he said, “wow, is that the bilge right there an inch below the engine”.

The people who are responsible for our industry in government come from shipping backgrounds. Captain Pat once told me that I would have to be very careful on my 40-tonne, 65-foot-long by 35-foot-wide floating platform I called a boat, where I placed my 60 pound rov because of stability.

They know so little about the industry that they are motoring that I could have had all three crew and 11,300 pound guests stand anywhere on that boat without affecting stability one per cent. Fifty-pound ROV, your idiots.

The Shipping Registry failed all but one item in its assessment by the MCA.

Meanwhile, trying to get them to register here is going to make Registry have the local boats comply with more and more stringent rules that apply globally rather than locally, (wait till you have to swamp test all your open boats, coming to a channel near you).

BVI fast becoming a ‘nowhere’


The BVI had the proud title of charter capital of the world. Hear that people of the world. Now its very fast becoming a ‘nowhere’ because of a pipe dream and a p*ssing contest with the USVI.

Decades ago the USA messed up and gave the BVI the charter industry by accident. COVID gave it back. Captains have been forced to explore the US Virgins and have found it to their liking.

Boats over the last decade have moved away because the BVI has taxed them to death, and now the final nail. The USVI has made it as easy as nothing to operate in their territory for term charter boats now. The hidden fees and the rule changes with zero notice do not happen there and can carry as many as the BVI under local rules.

The final nail


And the final nail—no charter broker for 12 months offered the Virgin Islands or signed a contract as a package. COVID and the BVI have created a permanent split. IT WILL NEVER RETURN.

All contracts are spelt out as two different destinations, two different countries and there could be a ‘maybe’ line if the guests are wanting to travel between the two. Even today and for the next however long, brokers and clearing houses are still trying to sort out charter that are booked, paid for as much a several years ago that cannot happen legally because of the BVI’s final nail in its charter coffin.

The brokers love it. They have more destinations to sell, its a whole new market now. There is never confusion over—well, I thought we were going to spend ‘X’ days not ‘Y’ days in the BVI, etc.

Captains and owners love it.

The boats aren’t gong to come


In the past, we picked up in the USVI and chartered in the BVI because a family could save several thousand dollars on airfares but the boat often got stuck with greatly varying entry fees.

We are not going to have all our guests return to the boat at West End complaining how rudely they were just treated.

Not any more. The boats are not going to come.

There are also vessels leaving in droves because of work permit difficulties. It’s a gamble they are playing with everyone’s lives and they are going to loose. Ask Foxy how much money he turns just from local term charter crews that used to come with 8-10-12 guests 35 times each year!

They know the impact of crappy decisions on JVD. How much revenue is lost from the charter industry by White Bay when a cruise ship is anchored off?

This year is going to be one of the biggest charter seasons in decades. Brokers ran out of product to sell for this season six months ago. There are hundreds of charters booked in the BVI that are going to be happening in the USVI this season, they have no choice, they cannot enter the BVI unless they want to base there.

Oh yes, a new rule that was introduced DAYS before the busiest season WAS about to start.

If the BVI wants to continue to attempt to lure an industry that is out of its grasp, the rest of the charter industry will have to move over too.

In all fairness, I too two decades said “nothing going on in the USVI, just a couple of land bars (watch out Willy-T)”.

BVI can’t have it all ways


I too have learned there is actually tonnes in the USVI for term charters. And you know what? They don’t generally group or term as the ‘white people’ over there, too.

You can’t have it all ways, BVI. I have been trying to tell you this for years. Maybe it is in fact that you are just trying to get rid of any whites who own businesses here but are just too scared to tell your people who you are SUPPOSED to answer to that you just don’t want them and there tourist dollar here. Afterall, your income is secure regardless of how much you mess up the country.

Yours Truly,
B.T.W Cooper

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