Monday, November 23 – The counting and recording of persons aboard passenger vessels operating within the Territory’s waters will become mandatory from February 1, 2010.
This is according to the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR), the government department responsible for implementing maritime policies regarding shipping operations and safety at sea among other areas.

In a marine circular issued by VISR Director Captain Baboucar Sallah to persons owning, managing, chartering or otherwise engaged in the operating of passenger vessels to and from the Territory, as well as relevant law enforcement agencies, the VISR explained that the counting and recording of persons on board passenger vessels is a requirement under the Code of Safety for Small Commercial Vessels Operating in the Caribbean (SCV Code). In the BVI, this code is enacted through the provisions of the Merchant Shipping (Caribbean Small Commercial Vessels Code) Regulations, 2004 and the Merchant Shipping Act, 2001.

The law requires that, “The owner of a passenger vessel shall ensure that there is a system capable of counting and keeping an accurate record of all persons who embark or disembark from the vessel, including the names and gender, distinguishing between adults, children and infants, prior to departing on a voyage.”

Passenger vessel owners and operators are being encouraged to take immediate action to design their system of recording as early as possible because this will first have to be approved by the VISR before it is implemented.

Chief Marine Surveyor in the VISR Captain Pat Nawaratne underscored the importance of implementing the counting and recording system. “Vessels engaged in international voyages produce comprehensive passenger manifests that meet the stated requirements, and within the BVI waters, vessels have been counting but not logging the names and particulars of passengers. However, in the event of search and rescue it would be useful to know exactly who was on board,” he told the Department of Information and Public Relations.

“In the airline industry, check-in closes at least 30 minutes before departure, among other things to provide sufficient time to complete the passenger manifests and security checks. A similar system can be implemented by the companies providing ferry services in collaboration with the BVI Ports Authority, allowing the crew sufficient time to count and record all passengers,” he added.

The implementation of a recording system has been a much talked about issue. As recently as Boating Safety Week 2009, observed October 11-16, Premier Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE recalled a marine incident involving a vessel plying the route between St. Kitts and Nevis and noted that to this day, the true extent of casualties is not known because the practice of keeping manifests was discontinued, as was the ticketing system.

“We have a habit for not sticking to procedure, not doing the things we are supposed to do,” he said, adding, “You got to have the vision and be brave enough to say it is time that we do things differently and help to make some changes in the way we did things 10, 20, 30 years ago. It is necessary for us to do it.”

Enforcement of the new system will involve enforcement officers boarding passenger vessels prior to departure to ensure there is a written account of all passengers. Failure of vessels operators to comply with the new requirements could result in the issuance of a prohibition order, detention of the vessel or legal action against the owner of the non complaint vessel.