While it is common to see British Virgin Islands-bound boats picking up passengers at the V.I. National Park dock in Cruz Bay, it’s not allowed according to U.S. Coast Guard regulations.
The VINP dock, the Cruz Bay Creek and the Great Cruz Bay beach are not USCG-certified facilities for vessels carrying more than 12 passengers embarking on international travel.
Under the regulations, Inter-island Boat Services — which has been operating ferry service to the BVI off of the Cruz Bay Creek for years — is not in compliance either.
Only Cargo OK at Creek
“The Creek is certified only for cargo, not passengers,” said USCG Marine Safety Detachment St. Thomas Lt. Commander Tim Grant. “While they do have a facility there, the ferry company is not supposed to be operating out of there because it is not a regulated facility.”
“The Creek dock is owned by the V.I. Port Authority and they have only provided a plan to handle cargo, not passengers,” said Grant. “The National Park Service dock used to be a certified facility, but they are not certified any longer.”
Enighed, Westin, Caneel Docks Are In Compliance
The Loredon Boynes ferry dock, Enighed Pond Marine Facility, Westin Resort and Villas dock and the secured dock at Caneel Bay Resort are the only facilities in compliance with USCG regulations for international travel of Safety Of Life at Sea (SOLAS) certified vessels.
A SOLAS certified vessel is any vessel which carries 12 or more passengers and provides service to another country.
USCG officials received reports of commercial operators who fall under the SOLAS certification using facilities which are not in compliance. After receiving reports of this activity, Coast Guard officials decided to issue letters detailing the infraction, explained Grant.
“The letter was in response to a report that there were SOLAS certified vessels picking up and dropping off passengers at facilities not in compliance with regulations,” said Grant.
Education Before Enforcement
“We forwarded the letter to all SOLAS companies because we heard the issue was occurring and we wanted to send out information first,” Grant continued.
While there are steep penalties for the violation — including a suspended or revoked master’s license and a $25,000 fine — USCG officials wanted to get the information to the public before taking enforcement actions, according to the USCG Lieutenant Commander.
“I’ve only been here three months, so I didn’t want it to seem like I was coming out with my guns blazing,” said Grant. “I want to educate the public first.”
Education is also what VINP officials are advocating, according to VINP superintendent Mark Hardgrove.
Civic Engagement Needed
“There has been intermittent enforcement and the public deserves to know if we’re going to be targeting something,” Hardgrove said. “We’re hoping to have an open meeting with our concessions operators and Coast Guard officials. We have the responsibility of civic engagement to inform the public.”
No International Travel from VINP Dock
There are more than 100 VINP permitted concessions which operate in park waters, but none of them run international routes, explained Hardgrove.
“We have 110 folks who use our Red Hook and Cruz Bay docks, but we’re not permitting anything that is international,” said the VINP superintendent. “We allow people to tie up at the Cruz Bay dock for 15 minutes while they come in and see the Visitors’ Center. We also allow some commercial use operators to pick up passengers at the dock, but not for international routes.”
While VINP officials will begin enforcing the USCG regulations, education and public meetings should improve compliance, Hardgrove explained.
“Hopefully, we’ll bring folks into compliance this season,” he said.
No Word from VIPA
VIPA officials did not return repeated phone calls from St. John Tradewinds requesting comment regarding operations at the Cruz Bay Creek.
USCG officials issued the compliance information letter in early October to a total of 18 SOLAS certified vessels including the Inter-island Boat Services and Native Son ferry operators. As of press time, both companies were still operating all scheduled runs.