Although the issue was inadvertently omitted from her things to do for 2000 address Tuesday, Delegate Donna Christian Christensen said she will seek to have the "six pack" rule for charter yachts in the territory waived.
The U.S. Coast Guard limits charter yachts in the U.S. to six passengers. Over the past 15 years that has translated into the loss of tens of millions of dollars a year to the local economy as charter owners moved their boats to the British Virgin Islands where up to 12 people are allowed on board, according to Judy Knape, executive director of the V.I. Charteryacht League.
Obtaining a waiver to the six-pack law in the territory would bring a significant amount of revenue to the ailing V.I. government, supporters of the industry say.
Knape said that at the height of the charter yacht industry in the mid-1980s, between $85 million and $100 million a year, depending on economic multipliers used, was generated. Current revenues are now one-quarter to one-third of that, she said.
Christensen said she has been dealing with the issue since 1997 as a way for the federal government to help the V.I. generate its own revenue rather than asking for more assistance.
"The U.S. Coast Guard has been the obstacle to having this happen," she said. "Thats why weve taken the legislative route."
Christensen staffer Brian Modeste said the delegate will introduce a bill in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the Coast Guard. The next step is to collect co-sponsors. But because the issue is perceived as a safety issue, Modeste said obtaining a waiver for the territory may be difficult.
Knape, however, said safety is actually a non-issue. She said charter yachts are captained by professionals while bareboats, essentially vessels rented to individual customers, can take up to 10 passengers.
"On paper it looks like a safety issue," Knape said. "A professionally captained charter can only take six people. That same boat could be taken out by a boozer with 10 people without breaking the law."
Knape said the Charteryacht League plans to work with Christensen on the waiver.
"Were for safe boats. I dont think the Coast Guard can show us a record of bad things happening," she said. "Its such an obvious way for the federal government to help the territory."