V.I. Ports Maintaining Critical Operations

Gallows Bay, St. Croix (Photo by VIPA)

The Virgin Islands Port Authority does not foresee a shortage of critical, imported supplies  over the next month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our cargo ports are fully operational territory-wide,” Monifa Brathwaite, public information officer for VIPA, told the Source Wednesday.

The lifeblood of the territory is delivered through its seaports. From 2016 to 2019, average monthly freighter cargo tonnage to U.S. Virgin Islands increased 40 percent.

VIPA issued a press release Wednesday stating cargo operations in the territory will continue as normal. The U.S. Coast Guard issued a Marine Safety Information Bulletin on March 13 as a “reminder that the illness of persons on board a vessel must be reported to both the Coast Guard and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).”

Failure to report any illness or death among passengers or crew will result in Coast Guard enforcement action, which can include civil penalties, vessel detentions, and criminal liability, the bulletin states.

Government officials, business owners, and citizens involved in marine commerce are balancing medical advice to limit social contact with the realities of meeting basic needs.

“The port employees that are needed to keep the ports open and safe are still reporting to work,” Brathwaite said. “VIPA is providing materials for our employees to stay safe as they perform their duties. VIPA has implemented a telework program for its administrative staff. They are still on the job and working from home.”

Ian Stevenson of Stevenson Freight, owner and operator of two freighters based in Puerto Rico, confirmed that V.I. ports are fully operational. “Yes, that is correct as of now,” Stevenson said.

“The problem for us isn’t the V.I., it’s Puerto Rico,” he said. “Anyone flying into PR now is on a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Anyone entering on a vessel is barred from coming ashore. Essentially the management cannot travel with the vessel. We are finding ways to make it all work remotely. Thankfully our V.I. employees are really stepping up and being rock stars.”

Air travel has seen dramatic reductions, but the airports remain open. The territory’s airports operate under guidelines set by the Federal Aviation Administration. According to a press release from VIPA, the agency “cannot close the territory’s airports without federal authorization. It should be noted that Puerto Rico has made several requests to close its airports to no avail.”