U.S. Coast Guard Terminates Charter Over Number of Passengers

The U.S. Coast Guard on March 4 terminated the voyage of this charter vessel, Island Hoppin’, just off Caneel Bay, St. John. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The U.S. Coast Guard announced on Thursday that it terminated what it called an illegal charter voyage of the 52-foot sailing catamaran Island Hoppin’ just outside of Caneel Bay, St. John because the boat carried more passengers than it was rated.

According to the Coast Guard, a Coast Guard Boat Forces Detachment 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement Team conducted a boarding of the Island Hoppin’ on March 4 and found the vessel was carrying 10 people on board, including the vessel operator and nine passengers for hire. The Island Hoppin’, reportedly operating out of St. Thomas for Charter Caribe, is allowed to carry only up to six passengers.

The Coast Guard boarding team cited the vessel operator with the following violations: Not having a valid certificate of inspection, operating with more than six passengers onboard, missing registration, missing registration numberings and carrying required distress flares that were expired.

Captain of the Port for Sector San Juan authorized the termination of the voyage and for the vessel to remain anchored in Caneel Bay, a Coast Guard news release said. Marine Safety Detachment St. Thomas personnel and the Boat Forces Detachment St. Thomas Boarding Team informed the master of all enforcement actions.

“The Coast Guard is focused on ensuring the safety of all passengers and crew members when engaging on charters,” said Lt. j.g. Lloyd Banks, investigating officer for Marine Safety Detachment St. Thomas. “Over the past several months, we have conducted over 50 administrative safety boardings on vessels in St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix. The Coast Guard is taking an active, sustained and focused approach in combating illegal charters, and is willing to partner with operators who are unaware or unsure of the regulations to find a path to compliance.”

Owners and operators of illegal passenger vessels can face maximum civil penalties of $60,000 or more for illegal passenger-for-hire operations. Charters that violate a Captain of the Port Order can face fines of more than $95,000. Some potential civil penalties for illegally operating a passenger vessel are:

– As much as $4,888 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire.

– As much as $16,687 for failure to produce a valid Certificate of Documentation for vessels over five net tons. (In lieu of a Certificate of Documentation, vessels over five net tons must have Virgin Islands Registration)

– As much as $12,219 for failure to have been issued a valid Stability Letter prior to placing the vessel in service with more than six passengers for hire.

– As much as $95,881 for every day of failure to comply with a Captain of the Port Order.

Anyone who wants to report illegal passenger vessel operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands can contact the Marine Safety Detachment in St. Thomas at 340-776-3497 or the Resident Inspection Office in St. Croix at 340-201-4099.