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By Carol Bareuther
More than a dozen megayacht captains gathered March 3 at Yacht Haven Grande in St. Thomas to get the latest on Port State Control, U.S. Customs’ clearance and Notice of Arrival issues. The half-day event served as a forum for captains based in and visiting the U.S. Virgin Islands to meet with representatives of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
Robert “Kale” Benton, a marine science technician for the USCG stationed at the Marine Safety Detachment in St. Thomas opened the forum with the implications of the USCG’s November 2015 policy letter titled “Guidance on Port State Control Examinations for Foreign Flagged Yachts”.
The letter notes that yachts 300 gross tons and above that make voyages beyond the “boundary line” — from near shore to offshore waters — need to meet U.S. regulations and are therefore subject to Coast Guard inspection under federal law.
Yachts of this size have three options, Benton said: meet all U.S. regulations and obtain a Certificate of Inspection, obtain equivalent standards issued via their flag state or yacht code, or unfortunately, go elsewhere.
During these inspections, one of the most frequently found non-compliance issues is a lack of U.S. transfer procedures in place for oil in yachts with a capacity of 10,500 gallons of oil. This can prevent a yacht from being able to fuel in the United States.
Benton also informed captains to contact Sector San Juan Command Center (+1 787-729-6800) when they are unable to meet the time requirements for submitting Notice of Arrivals. Weather, mechanical failures and other special circumstances can make these time requirements difficult to meet. He stated that a phone call to the USCG can go a long way in assisting the arrival process.
Beyond this, Alan Smith, chief supervisory CBP officer in St. Thomas, and Benton were asked what they saw as major challenges captains faced when entering U.S. waters, and what ways could captains prevent these situations.
“Clearing in at our St. John office can be problematic because of crowding, especially between 3 and 5 p.m. in the afternoon when the day boats and ferries are coming back into the U.S. from the British Virgin Islands,” CBP’s Smith said. “Therefore, we recommend that captains come to clear in during the morning, if possible. Also, we encourage captains to give us a call (+1 340-776-6741; 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. AST) first to verify what documentation they need so that they can have this filled out and ready when they come in. This can make the process go faster. We do not monitor Channel 16.”
Capt. Donovan Clark of the 150-foot Lurssen M/Y Attitude asked how to balance the lead time required by the USCG’s 24-hour Notice of Arrival reporting into the U.S. and guest requests to travel back and forth between the U.S. and British Virgin Islands as if the archipelago were one nationality.
“Be proactive,” USCG’s Benton said. “You can submit your notice of departure and arrival at the same time if you are leaving the U.S. for the BVI today and expect to be back in the U.S. tomorrow. Then, if something changes, you can always send in an update.”
Benton also added that the USCG’s Captain of the Port can work with vessels to facilitate a hastened Notice of Arrival for those yachts that have issues such as a failing engine or generator and need to come into a U.S.-based yard for repairs.
Representatives of air ambulance service AeroMD and tall ship El Galeon, which was at the marina for a port visit in honor of the territory’s centennial, introduced their businesses. And Phil Blake, general manager of Yacht Haven Grande wrapped up the event.
“In future, our desire is to bring together private and government representatives from both the British and U.S. Virgin Islands to help facilitate engagement and awareness of policies affecting yachting in the Virgin Islands,” Blake said.
Carol Bareuther is a freelance writer in St. Thomas.