Oct. 17, 2005 The charter yacht industry is worried that federal regulations will further hamper operations in the territory.
V.I. Charteryacht League director Pamela Wilson said she fears that a new federal ruling calling for charterboats to list their passengers at a U.S. Homeland Security Web site before they leave the U.S. Virgin Islands and before they return from trips to the British Virgin Islands will drive more charterboats out of the territory.
"We're caught in a one-size fits all regulation," Wilson said.
Homeland Security mandated that vessels start complying on Oct. 4. The length of time for filing varies.
Wilson said that term charter boats must file 24 hours in advance. Day sailboats must file both their departure and arrival notifications at the same time, but it must be within 15 minutes of departure.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said in a news release issued Monday that she is working with federal and local Customs and Border Protection officials to get a waiver for the territory's charterboats.
She said that as a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, she knows well the need to be able to identify and assess potential security risks to air and sea vessels, their occupants and the United States.
"In doing so, however, we must not do harm to legitimate businesses and the jobs they provide," Christensen said.
Wilson said that the new ruling affects term charter boats those that take guests out for overnight or longer visits and day sailboats in a different way.
Christensen said that while most term charter boats have the capability to access the Internet while on board their boat, the captains worry that they'll face a fine of up to $5,000 for simple mistakes like transposing digits on a passenger's passport number.
"I think this is the death knell for the term charter business. Most are already gone," she said. Wilson said that in 1989 the territory had 300 plus term charter boats homeporting in the Virgin Islands. Today, only 85 call the territory home.
Wilson said the day sailboats do not usually have Internet access onboard their boats so it is difficult for them to comply. She said they must then file from a land-based computer, which is prey to electrical outages as well as spotty phone and Internet service.
She said that as a result, many day sailboats have canceled their trips to nearby Jost Van Dyke in the British Virgin Islands. She said this change reduces the attractiveness of a day sail.
"Compounding the problem the ferries are exempt," Wilson said.
She said that the new regulations also prevent visitors from deciding at the last minute they want to take a day sail to the BVI. She said that the term and day charterboat passengers returning from the BVI must go through U.S. Customs, which enables the federal government to keep track of them.
The new ruling applies only to boats carrying paying passengers, not private vessels returning from trips to the BVI.
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