Wednesday, December 2 – In its ongoing effort to ensure the safe operation of vessels in the Territory’s waters, the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR) will as of February 1, 2010 fully enforce the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels) Regulations, 2004.

In a marine circular, the VISR said a number of safety codes were introduced in the Territory and given effect through the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels) Regulations, 2004, with the goal of achieving “a uniform safety standard for the small commercial vessel fleet operating in the BVI waters.” The regulations apply to all BVI small commercial vessels and to other small commercial vessels when operating in the BVI waters. The circular further states, “The strict enforcement of the regulations was delayed to provide the industry with sufficient phasing-in time, to gather experience and resources to enable full compliance with the safety regime in an economical and orderly fashion.”

However, the VISR is now moving forward with the next phase, the enforcement programme. To facilitate proper enforcement, officers from the VISR, Her Majesty’s Customs or the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force Marine Unit will board each commercially operated vessel to check for documents verifying vessel’s compliance. These documents include the “vessel’s registration documents; Small Commercial Vessel Certificate & Record of Safety Equipment on Board (SCV 2); stability letter or stability information booklet; skipper’s qualification and certificate (with STCW & Commercial Endorsement); crew certification and company/vessel’s trade licence.”

In instances where vessels are not compliant, prohibition orders may be issued, the vessel detained or legal action taken against the owner and master in accordance with provisions of the Merchant Shipping Act, 2001.

Chief Marine Surveyor in the VISR Captain Pat Nawaratne is encouraging all owners and operators of small commercial vessels to ensure full compliance before February 1, 2010. “When vessels are found to be non-compliant and enforcement action has to be taken, there could be a disruption in the operation of their business. It is therefore recommended that owners and operators of small commercial vessels ensure that their fleet is properly certified,” he stated.

According to the marine circular, “A recent study of the current status of compliance of BVI’s small commercial vessel fleet has revealed that while a large number of vessels have gained the required commercial certification there still exists a substantial number of vessels which have failed to obtain the necessary certification to be able to operate legally, as commercial vessels, in the BVI.”

Captain Nawaratne cautions that effective February 1, 2010, all non-compliant vessels will be subject to enforcement action. “At the VISR, we have a team of surveyors and inspectors to undertake the certification process. Owners or operators can contact our office to request an inspection, which is usually carried out within three days of receiving the completed application and supporting documents,” the VISR official explained.

He further stated, “Providing the vessel meets the necessary provisions, the Small Commercial Vessel Certificate will be issued on the same day that the inspection is completed. We also issue short term certificates in instances where vessels are found to be largely compliant but with minor deficiencies. In such cases, the deficiencies must be rectified within a specified period.”

The VISR is the Government agency responsible for implementing the maritime policies including shipping operations and safety of life at sea. The agency is committed to ensuring that vessels operating in the Territory adhere to the highest possible safety and operational standards.