The U.S. Virgin Islands is one step closer to regaining a strong foothold in the Caribbean’s term-charter industry. This potential rainbow on the horizon comes due to the passage on April 1 of an amendment to House Bill No. 4005 by the U.S. House of Representatives.
This amendment provides alternative compliance for U.S. Coast Guard safety regulations for uninspected U.S.-flag vessels weighing less than 100 gross tons. These vessels have been restricted under the Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 1993 to six paying passengers while operating in the waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Since then, there has been an exodus of crewed charter yachts from the USVI to the British Virgin Islands over the past 20 years. Foreign-flag vessels plying these same waters such as those operating out of the BVI have not been subject to these passenger restriction limits, also known as the six-pack rule.
“The amendment that just passed the House is a parity argument for BVI standards, rather than an argument for an exemption to existing USCG standards,” said Colette Conroy Monroe, policy adviser for the USVI governor’s office and member of the Virgin Islands Marine Economic Development Council, founded last year and which drafted this legislation.
“We are requesting the acceptance by the USCG to MCA standards for USVI-flagged vessels under 78 feet in length, which carry passengers to or from a port in the USVI,” she said. “If our vessels in this category have met the MCA [small commercial vessel] standards, then the vessel should be considered in compliance with adequate boating safety standards.”
This type of legislation is not unprecedented. The USCG has entered into formal agreements with certain classification societies such as the American Bureau of Shipping, Det Norske Veritas, and Lloyd’s Register to promote a more flexible and efficient marine transportation system while still maintaining safely and environmental protection.
“The passage of this legislation would be welcome news to over a dozen of our members with the larger Irwins and Privilege catamarans that can carry up to eight to 12 passengers,” said Brianne Beatty, executive director of the St. Thomas-based Virgin Islands Charteryacht League. “The more yachts we have based out of the USVI, the better for everyone economically from taxi drivers to hotels, restaurants and shops.”
This legislation will likely not affect the territory’s megayacht sector as most are foreign-flagged vessels.
The U.S. Senate must still pass similar legislation before any changes become law.
Carol Bareuther is a freelance writer in St. Thomas. Comments on this story are welcome at email@example.com.