BVI News

Over 130 vessels flagged as potentially operating illegally in BVI

A vessel from Her Majesty’s Customs.

Investigations carried out by Her Majesty’s Customs at the weekend found approximately 130 marine vessels that may not meet the standards to operate in the Virgin Islands.

According to the Commissioner of Customs Wade Smith, the investigation is an ongoing matter where Customs is trying to ensure that all vessels which operate in the territory are done so with legal status.

He said to be legally able to operate a vessel in the Virgin Islands, it must be one of three things — duty-paid, ‘temporarily-imported’ licensed, or commercially licensed.

Smith said he is still waiting on further investigations to fully determine the status of the vessels.

“The vessels that do not meet the requirement can carry substantial penalties of up to $5,000 per vessel. So, again that’s why the matter has been carefully investigated to ensure that these vessels are in fact legal and if not, we have to take other measures to ensure that the revenues for the government of the Virgin Islands are collected whether it is duty-paid or a temporary or commercial license,” the Customs Commissioner added.

Collecting revenues

Smith said the operation is territory-wide and forms part of the department’s duty to collect revenues. He noted the agency has two primary functions which are enforcement of border safety and revenue collections. Smith added that revenue collection is ensuring that any goods imported in the territory are done so in accordance with the relevant legislation.

The Commissioner also said the information is readily available on the Customs website for any operators who want to get their vessels in compliance with Customs codes. He noted that in the last few years, Customs and other governmental agencies have been hosting symposiums to educate people within the marine industry on the dos and don’ts of the boating community.

Symposium brings clarity

Last week, the Department had a symposium with various stakeholders from the marine industry where they were able to express any concerns or queries, they had and have those addressed by various government departments.

The government departments present were the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, Department of Trade, Labour Department, Immigration Department and the Customs Department which Smith said are all important to the processing of vessels in regards to receiving their licenses.

“What was communicated to the industry is that we realise there was a lot of representatives for various companies presenting the information in a distorted and inaccurate manner and it was very important that all involved whether they are working for the government or a private agency make sure that they have all the relevant and accurate up-to-date information to present to their clients,” the Commissioner added.

Smith mentioned that through the symposiums, a number of owners have been contacting the various departments directly because they have not been receiving the full information from agencies regarding government policy.

“So, what we have also started going forward is the agency will provide training for the brokers and the agents. We will provide training and only after successful completion of the training they will be recognised as agents to be doing business with Customs and Virgin Islands Shipping Registry,” Smith stated.



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  1. nature's dirty little secret says:

    Go ahead and kill the goose that lays the golden eggs

    Like 39
    Dislike 14
    • Doing it says:

      Ever mindful of the well-being and quality of life of the territory’s residents, and of nurturing the local economy, HM Customs is going out of their way to screw things up as much as possible. Customs has created an adversarial atmosphere and nobody can trust them.

      Like 23
      Dislike 5
  2. strupes says:

    dem aint tired fri%%ing up people?

    Like 19
    Dislike 4
  3. PT09 says:

    You can do your job without harassing the tourist, check the boat name and do it at the dock if it’s one of the charter companies, this tourist has nothing to do with the paperwork. if it’s not a BVI charter boat then deal with them on the spot, your approach is going to kill the tourism industry

    Like 53
    Dislike 4
  4. LB says:

    He is the worst thing to happen to our Tourism industry. They should never have brought him back. Drew needs to bell that stray cat!

    Like 28
    Dislike 5
  5. Reality Check says:

    HM Customs seemingly is incapable of publishing the rules and then adhering to those rules. As was made clear in that meeting the Commissioner of Customs has the right to change any rule or enact a rule at any time that person wants to do so, without having to publish such changes. With so many arbitrary rules and changes it is difficult to meet the requirements, especially when the Customs Agents don’t know the rules and often make them up on the fly.
    Publish the rules and follow them, with a grace period for the application of changes.

    Like 52
    Dislike 1
    • Daily says:

      Their demands change on a daily basis.

      Like 16
      Dislike 1
    • Jeff says:

      We recently left the BVI after a friends boat who was also cruising the BVI for 6 weeks after obtaining an extension (a USA resident who owns the boat) when their boat was suddenly impounded without warning. They were informed by customs that the boat won’t be released until they pay 5% import fees on the cost of the yacht. The yacht is a BVI registered boat, own by a USA resident. And citizen.. Nothing was said to them about this issue/rule when they entered or extended their stay with both customs amd immigration. This rule is not made clear to visitors/tourists when they bring their BVI flagged boats in to pump money into the local economy. I called customs to verify these specific rules and no one I was referred to verified this import tariff rule. We were told multiple different things on multiple occasions on a variety of issues by BVI customs staff. They are either poorly trained or corrupt. I’m guessing a little of both. Amd it’s clear the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing when it comes to BVI customs staff in different departments or offices. We are Americans who had spent weeks here spending a fair amount of money in your country that depends on this tourism. We have left prematurely due to this issue. It’s left a really bad taste in our mouth, and doubt we will ever return. Too sketchy with inconsistent rules and corruption with attempts to extort the cruising tourists. There are many in the cruising community who have also confirmed a hesitation to return to the BVI because of poor treatment by customs as well as immigration staff in recent years.

  6. Sam says:

    not only the black peoples from the caribbean should pay tax

    Like 5
    Dislike 5
  7. Charter Owner says:

    They’re only found to be illegally operating because YOU have made it that way! They’ve been perfectly legal for years! Just keep changing the rules why don’t you. I’m done, I’m out of here.

    Like 23
    Dislike 5
    • Doh says:

      Shipping registry is the problem. Corrupt officials, just like everyone else.

      The inspection *** tells me not to worry about infractions if I buy him drinks. Wow.

      Like 1
      Dislike 1
  8. funny says:

    wave at an incoming ferry from ST Thomas or a vessel not yet cleared into the BVI receive a $10,000 fine for that happy welcome wave!

    Like 7
    Dislike 1
  9. Curly says:

    Dear Shipping dept.
    5 emails, 3 phone calls and a personal visit to your office, no replies. It speaks volumes when the people in your office couldn’t answer my questions about making my boat legal to operate. I have genuinely tried to comply on multiple occasions. If i get stopped and fined i will spend my life savings on legal fees to fight it. SMH

    Like 29
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  10. Where is the vision? says:

    The article does not mention the nature of these “illegal” boats. Are they boats frrom charter companies? If so, deal with them directly. How difficult is to around to each company and ask them for a list of boats in their fleets and then for verification that the appropriate fees have been paid? Do it in early November. Red tag boats that are not paid up until the fees have been received. Are they boats coming in for the season? If so, deal with the issue at the time of arrival into the Territory. Are they boats that belong to residents? If so, deal witn them when they import their boats. Make the requirements crystal clear, post them on line and keep them up to date. and be responsive and prompt instead of dragging everything out, and meting out disdain and disrespect. People who spend time on boats here spend plenty of money here. I can’t speak for Belongers, but as a lifelong sailor and boater, I can attest that most owners are happy to comply with the rules. Playing this heavy handed gotcha game is not placing the BVIs in a positive light.

    Like 24
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    • GTFOH says:

      Charter companies should clearly know the maritime law so if it is charter companies then they have absolutely no excuse. The same way drivers are required to know the laws to operate a vehicle the same is required for owners and operators of vessels.

      Like 8
      Dislike 6
      • @GTFOH says:

        Please read the post by reality check. How can anyone, including yourself, clearly know the rules when they are changed arbitrarily without advance notice? It seems not even the enforcers know the changes in the rules, but somehow you think charter companies should have some kind of crystal ball to anticipate auitocratic rule changes. Secondly, the article does not indicate the breakdown of the boats. Thirdly, if you spend anytime driving around in the Territory, it is clear that the manner in which vehicles are operated is inconsistent with the vehicle code suggesting either drivers are ignorant of the law, or deliberately flaunting it. Lastly, vehicle drivers around here are not exactly bringing in tourist dollars. And, may I point out that all this, as described in the article, is not about maritime law. It is about customs duties, in other words tax law.

        Like 6
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        • Anonymous says:

          BS, the maritime laws have not been changed often. The laws regarding renewal and registration of vessels to legally operate in BVI waters have remained basically the same.

          Like 2
          Dislike 1
    • BuzzBvi says:

      Wade’s Mission should he choose to accept it!!
      To serve Government and the public with professionalism, fairness and integrity by, providing quality service, maximizing the collection of Revenue, protecting our Territorial borders and facilitating legitimate trade efficiently, effectively and economically in order to safeguard the well-being and security of the Territory.


      Like 4
      Dislike 1
  11. Intersting says:

    This legislation was around since 2004 but was not enforced but now that it is being enforced the marine industry is catching a fit. SMH!

    Like 4
    Dislike 7
  12. Vg says:


    Like 10
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  13. stopit says:

    @BuzzBvi Wade’s Mission is to FU the tourist industry.

  14. Anonymous says:

    The same people praising the COI and criticizing the government for the breaching or not following protocols or laws are the same ones here criticizing Government for enforcing the law. Smh

    Like 3
    Dislike 5
  15. vi says:

    All i’m seeing is this cl**n just trying to fig the charter industry, you out there saying Over 130 vessels flagged as potentially operating illegally in BVI, why you don’t post all the stuff the charters vessel need so that they can get all there paper work done so that they can operate but no you want to meet the charters vessel and just give them an fine, you acting like you all innocent, when you was not at custom everything was running right soon as Andrew give you back ur job, all h**l break loose, …,wade don’t act like you all of that, you know better than any one of them, keep on p**sing off the charter vessel and you going to see what happen, wade in my eyes you just an ***, just remember god don’t sleep ur day will surly come.

    Like 1
    Dislike 1
  16. Well sah says:

    Could Wade care less about tourism? Is his concern to be able to boast about how much revenue he collects for government’s coffers not understanding that his “mandate” needs to be balanced? His highhanded manner in not even giving boaters a fair hearing is not good and this is the boating community in general. Yes there is the law that has been around since 2004 but Wade was around since then too. He could have put things in place and not wait until the industry is down and out to help drag it under.

    Like 3
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    • Capt Ron says:

      No, he doesn’t care about tourism. He brags about how much money he brings in for govt. He sees his job is to get more $$$ now, and not even worry about the repercussions down the road.

      Like 2
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  17. Dear BVI News says:

    You might have considered speaking to some of those in attendance at the meeting to get their perspective. Might have made for a more interesting article.
    Things are obviously not right and good reporting would bring that to light.

    (to all those who are going to jump on this and say something about cronyism….I know, I know…)

  18. Wow says:

    Went to the office
    Met with the big Boss,feet on the desk?
    It says it all

    Like 1
    Dislike 2
    • Capt Ron says:

      Did he give you the “I can do anyting I want to you” speech? He’s a big b**ly and that department is a joke under his “leadership”. I’ve been in/out of over 30 countries…BVI Customs is #1 for BS!

      Like 3
      Dislike 1
  19. Yep says:

    You should focus on murder and gun’s instead

    Like 3
    Dislike 1

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