Coast Guard stops illegal passenger vessel operation just off Caneel Bay

The crew of a Coast Guard Boat Forces Detachment Saint Thomas 33-foot Special Purpose Craft – Law Enforcement boards the vessel Island Hoppin’ just off Caneel Bay, Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands Mar. 4, 2021. The Coast Guard boarding team terminated the voyage as an illegal charter citing the operator of the small passenger vessel for multiple violations including carrying an excess of authorized passengers and not having a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

The crew of a Coast Guard Boat Forces Detachment Saint Thomas 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement boards the vessel Island Hoppin’ just off Caneel Bay, Saint John, U.S. Virgin Islands Mar. 4, 2021. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

ST THOMAS, U.S. Virgin Islands — The Coast Guard terminated an illegal passenger for hire operation on March 4, 2021, for the 52-foot sailing catamaran Island Hoppin’ just outside of Caneel Bay in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands.

During a law enforcement patrol in the area, a Coast Guard Boat Forces Detachment 33-foot Special Purpose Craft-Law Enforcement team conducted a boarding of the Island Hoppin’ and found the vessel was carrying 10 people onboard, eight passengers for hire. The Island Hoppin’, operating out of St. Thomas for Charter Caribe, may only carry up to six passengers.

The Coast Guard boarding team cited the vessel operator with the following violations:

  1. Violation of 46 CFR 176.100(a) Not having a valid Certificate of Inspection.
  2. Violation of 46 CFR 176.100 Operating with more than six passenger onboard.
  3. Violation of 46 CFR 173.15 Missing registration
  4. Violation of 46 CFR 174.15 Missing Registration Numberings
  5. Violation of 46 CFR 180.68 The required distress flares on board were expired.

Captain of the Port for Sector San Juan authorized termination of the voyage and for the vessel to remain anchored in Caneel Bay. Marine Safety Detachment St. Thomas personnel and the Boat Forces Detachment St Thomas Boarding Team informed the Master of all enforcement actions. A Captain of the Port Order was issued restricting the vessel’s operations until deficiencies are rectified and or valid blue code/Certificate of Inspection have been obtained.

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

Section 4105 of title 46, United States Code, provides an exception to the laws concerning Uninspected Passenger Vessel operations specifically for vessels in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI). In the USVI, vessels less than 79 feet in overall length may carry a maximum of 12 passengers only if the vessel complies with the requirements established by the United Kingdom (U.K.) Code of Practice for the Safety of Small Commercial Motor or Sailing Vessels commonly known as the Yellow Code (for motor vessels) or the Blue Code (for sailing vessels). If such a vessel does not comply with one of those codes, it may only carry a maximum of six passengers.

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

  • Up to $4,888 for failure to provide a Coast Guard Certificate of Inspection for vessels carrying more than six passengers for hire.
  • Up to $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)
  • Up to $95,881 for every day of failure to comply with a Captain of the Port Order.

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

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