Passengers leave the Disney Fantasy in October 2019, about five months before the territory closed to cruise ships because of the Covid-19 pandemic. (File photo: ZARRIN TASNIM AHMED)

Cruise ships would be able to start and end their journeys in the Virgin Islands under a proposed law introduced recently in the House of Assembly as part of efforts to help jump-start the tourism industry, according to Premier Andrew Fahie.

The Cruise and Home Port Permit Act, 2021, which would replace the Cruising Permit Act (Cap. 203), would also enable permitted charter boats to more easily cruise through the territorial waters, Mr. Fahie said while introducing the bill, adding that it would lower costs for charter boats to register here as well.

The proposed law, which was Gazetted on April 23, defines “cruising” as stopping in any part of the VI territorial sea — not just passing through. The House originally planned to fast-track the bill in one session, but Mr. Fahie decided against bringing it for second and third readings on April 22 as scheduled.

The HOA likely will debate it during the current sitting that started April 29.

Merchant shipping

HOA members did, however, fast-track another marine-related bill, introducing and passing the Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Act, 2021 on April 22.

The proposed law — which now awaits the governor’s assent — could help make the VI Shipping Registry “a great revenue earner,” Mr. Fahie said, projecting a potential $15 million in new annual revenue.

He added that the amendment addresses two main issues raised during a 2018 audit of the registry by the UK Maritime and Coast Guard Agency: registration termination and enforcement.

Among other provisions, he explained, the amendment “expands the circumstances in respect of which the registrar of shipping and seamen may terminate the registration of a Virgin Islands ship.”

The bill would also extend the jurisdiction of the VI courts in respect to offences committed aboard ships registered in or travelling in the VI. Mr. Fahie noted that this measure would assist the territory in cracking down on drug trafficking and money laundering.

Deputy Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley added, “Certainly this amendment will help to strengthen the legislative framework to allow us to do things like fight transnational crime, of which drug trafficking is a part. As a territory, we have nothing to be ashamed of because we are making seizures of drugs here. It shows that we are united in the fight against drug trafficking, and I think this amendment adds to the effort of ensuring we are able to prosecute.”

Registrations

Mr. Fahie said the proposed law — like the cruising bill — would also make the territory more attractive for ship registrations.

The House last updated the Merchant Shipping Act in February 2020, dealing with the enforcement of safety regulations under the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention.

Last week’s amendment was not Gazetted as of press time on April 28.

The premier brought the bill for first, second and third readings on April 22, and it passed with amendments.


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