An effort is underway in Congress to boost the marineeconomy of the U.S. Virgin Islands by exempting charter yachts from certain Coast Guard regulations.
Legislation introduced by USVI delegate Donna Christian-Christensen proposes to lift the current "six-pack" licensing regulation, which allows vessels less than 100 gross tons to avoid costly inspections but limits them to carrying six or fewer passengers. Supporters say it will increase the Islands’ ability to compete with the neighboring British Virgin Islands, whose more lenient regulations permit them to operate larger vessels carrying more passengers.
The island’s charter industry has lost as much as $90 million in profits over the last two decades, to both a luxury tax and a series of debilitating hurricanes, according to the group’s reports. An estimated third of its charter fleet has relocated. Christian-Christensen hopes the leniency will lure past fleet members and newcomers to the Islands.
But the effort to bolster competition is expected to meet some opposition. Organizations that closely aligned themselves with the Passenger Vessel Safety Act of 1993, such as the National Association of Passenger Vessel Operators, fear that one exemption to the six-pack rule might serve as a catalyst for more.
Under current regulations, uninspected vessels must meet certain safety requirements, such as lifejackets and other minimum equipment, and may be randomly boarded to be checked for compliance, but they are not required to schedule or finance annual inspections. A vessel carrying more than six passengers is subject to more stringent requirements and to annual inspections.
BVI charter vessels are subject only to international regulations, which pertain to passenger counts of 12 or more. USVI delegates are searching for a Senate member to sponsor their bill, and they are hoping to have it passed by the end of summer.