Legislators recently passed two bills designed to achieve their longstanding goal of replacing the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry with a new statutory body separate from central government.
“Today, we propose an additional improvement to our [shipping] register and maritime administration by establishing the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry as the Virgin Islands Shipping and Maritime Authority,” Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley said during the Sept. 12 House of Assembly meeting when the bills were passed. “Ultimately, the establishment of the authority will further the government of the Virgin Islands’ objectives of economic diversification and expanding the revenue-generating capacities of the territory.”
One of the bills — the VI Shipping and Maritime Authority Act — will establish the new statutory body with its own board. The other — the Merchant Shipping Act (Amendment) 2022 — will help transfer VISR’s powers to the new authority.
Both bills were a long time in coming: Leaders originally announced the plans during a press conference in March 2021.
The final versions of the bills have not yet been Gazetted, and they both await the governor’s assent.
VISR Director John Samuel said establishing a statutory body led by an autonomous board is in keeping with international standards and the Red Ensign Group of flags, in which the registries of the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the Isle of Man already operate as statutory bodies.
“Operating under a management board will provide several advantages, including the authority’s ability to manage its finances more effectively, heightened responsiveness, enhanced commercial administrative functions, and less bureaucratic constraints to conducting commercial transactions,” Mr. Samuel said in a Sept. 20 press release.
The VI’s new authority will be responsible for ensuring international maritime compliance and regulating the territory’s waters, Mr. Samuel has said in the past.
Legislators also hope the move will help attract more people to register their vessels in the territory — a longstanding government goal designed to boost the economy.
To that end, Mr. Samuel stressed the need to represent the VI at events that are purely shipping-related.
Such efforts are already under way. This week through Sunday, Premier Dr. Natalio “Sowande” Wheatley is leading a VISR delegation to the Monaco Yacht Show, an international event dedicated to superyachts.
“The BVI is the sailing capital of the world,” Dr. Wheatley said in a press release. “We are an excellent destination to experience the wonders of the sea. Moreover, we can offer world-class services through our Red Ensign Category One Shipping Registry. The Monaco Yacht Show allows us the opportunity to promote the benefits of sailing and registering in the BVI.”