A decades-strong industry and potent contributor to the U.S. Virgin Islands economy, which is often unseen due to the nature of its business, is now in full view public due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Over 100 U.S. Virgin Islands based professionally crewed charter vessels are following U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. Jr’s Emergency Executive Orders to not accept guests and, like the territory’s shoreside populace, to shelter in place.
This mandate comes at the peak of the marine tourism charter season when this fleet of U.S.-based vessels are normally scattered among the territory’s, as well as neighboring islands’, anchorages on customized 7-day itineraries for their guests. Thus, these vessels, as well as over 70 U.S.-based day charter vessels, are now docked, moored or anchored in what seems increasing numbers in the territory’s bays.
“The Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA) has 144 USVI-based charter vessel members all of whom are presently ‘grounded’ rather than cruising the Virgin Islands with tourists on board. The professional crew of these Virgin Islands-based yachts have their hearts vested in the Virgin Islands, and wish, as much as land-based residents, to preserve the health both of the people of the Virgin Islands and its environment. In addition to the home-based charter fleet there are also a combination of professionally-run charter yachts who have arrived in the USVI from islands to the south, and cruising yachts with their owners living aboard (often in retirement). VIPCA would like to emphasize to the Virgin Islands public that both home-based and visiting boaters are naturally considerate to their host islands, and will be complying with the Governor’s Executive Orders in addition to maritime regulations such as emptying sewage offshore both by free will and legal obligation,” says Oriel Blake, VIPCA executive director.
Yachts welcome, just follow procedures
Recognizing the influx of yachts, on March 27, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. welcomed U.S.-based and other arriving vessels to the territory. He further encouraged that post-pandemic, those not based in the territory to join the USVI marine family and economy.
However, the Governor, as he has outlined in his Emergency Executive Orders for safety of those on shore, reminded all vessels to abide by the orders and compliance requests of agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and any further Emergency Executive Orders issued by the Governor.
“We’re asking the boaters to please adhere to the mandates issued by the Governor by registering for an anchoring permit, completing the health assessment, practicing social distancing by remaining on their vessel and limiting trips to shore, and not to onboard any passengers during this time. We also require that all vessels follow our requirements for the disposal of solid and liquid waste. For any questions please contact DPNR’s Division of Environmental Enforcement at (340) 774-3320 in St. Thomas or (340)773-5776 in St. Croix, or by email at email@example.com. We look forward to your return under normal circumstances when you may experience true Virgin Islands hospitality,” says J.P. Oriol, DPNR Commissioner.
Oriol adds that his department has received over 100 anchoring applications since last Thursday. The Department’s officers are now conducting patrols and telling boaters where to go online and get the information. DPNR has identified 19 bays on St. Thomas and Water Island, 4 in St. John and 6 in St. Croix for anchoring specifically until April 30.
Additionally, the Virgin Islands National Park (VINP) has 200 moorings and this week will announce a new mooring reservation program.
“Boaters will need either a VI permit for VI waters/bays or an NPS (National Park Service) reservation, not both,” says Nigel Fields, VINP Superintendent.
Both DPNR and the VINP remind all vessel operators that it is illegal to discharge or discard refuse of any kind within the 3 nautical mile limit of the territorial waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands. More information about provisioning concierge (including local produce), trash removal and crew support networks can be found at vipca.org.
“The professional crew of the home-based charter yachts are very respectful towards the environment and are following usual sewage discharge practices which involve taking their yacht three miles offshore before releasing their holding tanks of black and grey water. VIPCA hopes that the sizable number of visiting yachts who have arrived from other parts of the Caribbean will continue to follow the principles of good boating and shall comply with the Virgin Islands Government regulations including emptying holding tanks offshore,” Says VIPCA’s Blake.
DPNR also recommends vessels make use of online concierge services to the greatest extent possible for provisioning, more information can be found at vipca.org.
Key role in post-pandemic tourism recovery
VIPCA’s has called on its members to be ambassadors to those visiting yachts and to assist in passing on information.
“Now more than ever, we need to lead by example as it pertains to all of the circumstances that have fallen upon us. Please encourage the Social Distancing, Quarantine-if-needed, Holding Tanks usage, respecting the policies on our beaches to all of those around you. Our role as an industry is to protect the waters, the shores, the people and the culture of the Virgin Islands as it interacts from a marine perspective. Let’s work together,” says Dare Blankenhorn, VIPCA president.
In 2019, the annual direct contribution to the U.S. Virgin Islands economy made by 150 week/term charter vessels, 75-day charter, 17 sport-fishing and 55-bareboat charter vessels was estimated at approximately $45 million. This contribution is made via support to businesses like supermarkets, fuel, restaurants, hotels, taxis, diving/fishing rentals, laundry, port authority fees and dockage.
The marine industry is one of the most resilient and was one of the first to generate tourism revenues for the territory after the 2017 hurricanes. Marine tourism offers immediate expansion possibilities. By welcoming these yachts to the territory during the world’s State of Emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, provided that they abide by the rules and that their crew do not come ashore until 14 days quarantine have been safely taken onboard, the Virgin Islands should hope to profit from the strengthening of the marine industry and by its expansion.
For additional information and questions, contact: Oriel Blake, executive director VIPCA, firstname.lastname@example.org