A joint operation that continued on March 16, 2022, clamped down on several yachting companies operating in the Virgin Islands, including the largest- The Moorings.
According to a press statement from Government on March 17, 2022, "If the vessels are not licenced by that date the duties become payable at 5 percent of the value of each vessel."
It also said that if the combined value of all vessels is in excess of $100 million the companies must produce a bond of 5 percent to secure the duty owed.
At least three charter companies have faced heavy fines.
"Many vessels were found to be offered for hire without having onboard essential safety equipment for protection of the BVI guests and clients. The equipment lacking in many instances are propane Detectors, high Water Alarms, Smoke Detectors, Fire Extinguishers, Flares and Life Jackets," the statement highlighted.
It said, in addition to those violations, the majority of these vessels do not meet the minimum safety requirements which will enable them to receive a safety and exemption certificate that would allow them to be considered home based charter vessels.
It was revealed that while conducting compliance checks on March 16, 2022, some very concerning issues were discovered, including that a charter company was operating without licences, cruising permits, and making false declarations to Customs officers.
"Our compliance checks have revealed that there were companies disregarding our agreements and conditions put in place to ensure the safety of our visitors and the protection of Government’s revenues. Vessels which were not authorised to charter were on charter without commercial licences and cruising permits."
According to the statement, Government had to recently detain approximately 46 vessels that should not be conducting charters at this time due to violations of the Commercial Recreational Vessel Licensing Act. 1992 and not meeting safety requirements for any of the vessels.
“The Government cannot lower the standards of the destination, making it unsafe.”
In addition, 138 vessels from a charter company were detained after compliance checks revealed that one of the official documents were tampered with. The offence carries a $20,000 penalty.
Government also stated that it had to fine another charter company for a number of vessels which were detained in a marina and boatyard in Virgin Gorda without any status to be in the Virgin Islands.
There have been many criticisms, especially from charter companies affected, on the clampdown on non-compliant charter vessels. Some have said the timing is off and that it is bad public relations for a territory reliant on the yacht charter industry.
Government; however, said it has been working closely with the charter companies for several months on a number of matters to ensure compliance and the health and safety of the users of the charters.
It added that ignoring the issues could see the territory being labeled as an unsafe destination.
“The Government wants to ensure that local and visiting customers who vacation on the boats are safe. The Government cannot afford to put the lives of the captain, crew and clients in jeopardy; and run the risk of having a major maritime accident involving loss of lives in BVI waters – especially where non-compliant vessels were licenced for commercial use by the Government. This will project a negative image of the BVI commercial recreational sector as an unsafe maritime destination.”
The British Virgin Islands Tourist Board (BVITB) is said to be also working closely with the enforcement agencies and with tourism industry partners to resolve the current situation of non-compliance, “so that guests may fully enjoy their charter experience and is exploring every possible solution to ensure future guests are unaffected.”
The clampdown on non-compliant charter companies and vessels is being led by Her Majesty's Customs.