BVI Small Commercial Vessel Compliancy Crackdown

18 December 2009 By Louisa Beckett

Owners and captains of power and sailing charter yachts under 24 meters (78.74 feet) in length, and capable of carrying 12 or fewer passengers, operating in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) this winter will need to have all vessel and crew documentation and inspection certificates required under the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels) Regulations, 2004, in order as of February 1, 2010, or risk prosecution by BVI authorities.

According to Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR) Marine Circular No. 1/2009, dated 1st November 2009 (which was released to the press earlier this month), several small commercial vessel Codes of Practice have been introduced in the British Virgin Islands in recent years in order “to achieve a safety standard for the small commercial vessel fleet operating in BVI waters.” These include the Merchant Shipping Act, 2001 and the UK’s Safety of Small Commercial Vessels Codes of Practice for Sailing Vessels (known as the Blue Code) and Motor Vessels (known as the Yellow Code).

These codes officially came into force on February 1, 2004, via the Merchant Shipping (Safety of Commercial Sailing and Motor Vessels) Regulations, 2004, but their strict enforcement was postponed for six years in order “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.”

According to Marine Circular No. 1/2009, a large number of vessels in the BVI’s small commercial vessel fleet have achieved the proper standards of certification – but “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.”

As of February 1, the BVI will start lowering the boom on these non-compliant vessels.

At that time, small commercial vessels operating in the region will be subject to boarding by VISR agents, customs officials, marine police or other duly appointed enforcement officers under the provisions of Part XVI of the Merchant Shipping Act, 2001, entitled “Enforcement Officers and Powers.” The boarding parties will check for the following documents:
• The vessel’s registration documents
• Small Commercial Vessel Certificate (SCVC) & Record of Safety Equipment on Board (SCV2)
• Stability Letter or Stability Information Booklet
• Skipper’s Qualification and Certificate (with STCW & Commercial Endorsement)
• Crew Certification
• Company/vessel’s trade license

A Report of Inspection will be issued to each vessel found in compliance by the boarding Enforcement Officer.

Vessels that do not have a valid SCVC may file an application for an examination for commercial certification with the VISR. According to the Marine Circular, “VISR has a team of surveyors and inspectors dedicated for Code vessel certification…available at all reasonable hours,” and promises that “within three days of receiving an application, an inspector will be available to board the vessel for inspection.” If the vessel meets all the Code requirements, it may be issued a SCVC on the same day it passes inspection.

Nevertheless, with less than a month and a half remaining before the February 1 deadline, it’s advisable that vessels without a valid SCVC should file their applications for examination as soon as possible.

The Marine Circular warns that after February 1, non-compliant vessels may be subject to a disruption of their business activities resulting from enforcement action, and that legal sanctions under the Merchant Shipping Act, 2001, may be enacted. These sanctions may include “the issuance of Prohibition Orders, Detention of the vessel and legal action against the owner and master by the Attorney General.”