Release Date: April 27, 2020
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE ANNOUNCES EXPANDED WATER QUALITY TESTING THROUGHOUT PARK WATERS
St. John, US Virgin Islands – Virgin Islands National Park announces an expanded water quality testing program to assess fecal coliform bacteria within key boat mooring areas.
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in use changes in park bays where many vessels are mooring. For many years park staff have monitored fecal coliform bacteria levels monthly at Maho, Hawksnest, and Trunk Bay beaches, in accordance with EPA recreational water quality standards. Water samples are analyzed by an EPA and state-certified lab in St. Thomas.
The monitoring frequency at these areas was increased on April 13 to weekly sample collection. We are pleased to report the results are well-within the safe limits for swimming under EPA recreational water quality standards. The monitoring program was also expanded April 13 to include randomized sample collection at eight additional locations in the park, and, in Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument, the bays of Hurricane Hole. The previous and expanded areas now encompass about 90% of the boat mooring areas in the park.
Weekly samples provide a general indicator for discharges of fecal coliform bacteria, and collection sites are randomized within each bay. The results from the previous two weeks are well below EPA threshold limits for recreational water and are consistent with baseline values the park has collected for several years. Based on water quality test results from samples collected and analyzed the past few weeks, the bays and beaches within the park and in the monument, the bays of Hurricane Hole, are safe for swimming and other activities.
The expanded water sampling sites, as well as an increased sample frequency to weekly collection at the existing three sites, will continue as long as the Territory is under a state of emergency. The park will provide periodic updates to the community regarding future sample results.
The park wishes to thank the mariners staying for extended periods in both territorial and park waters for their diligence in assuring that to either discharge waste a minimum three miles from shore or arranging for a pump out service.
The NPS encourages people who choose to visit the waters of Virgin Islands National Park during this pandemic to adhere to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and territory and local public health authorities to protect visitors and employees. As services are limited, the NPS urges visitors to continue to practice Leave No Trace principles, including pack-in and pack-out, to keep outdoor spaces safe and healthy. Law enforcement staff will remain on duty and may be reached at 1-866-995-8467.
The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working with federal, territory, and local authorities to closely monitor COVID-19. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website (www.nps.gov/viis) and social media channels.
Please contact Thomas Kelley at (340) 690-2440 should you have any questions.
About the National Park Service. More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.
Crews in St. Thomas have been organizing weekly food orders shared between multiple boats to obtain goods from a local farm and local baker. Sugar Brown Farms delivered to Crown Bay Marina to one crew representative, wearing mask and gloves. Safe distance was kept and payment collected online. Crews in St. John have also organized group orders with Sugar Brown Farms who met their representative in Red Hook. Love City Lunchbox has been delivering fresh bread orders by powerboat to crews in Brewer’s Bay, St. Thomas, while also keeping safe distance and wearing gloves in the exchange of goods.
Several crews have also created chat groups and radio support networks within their current harbors in effort to share news & updated protocols set forth by the Government of the USVI. These groups are also coordinating provisioning and trash runs, which is productive in limiting the number of crews going ashore. Kelly, a local provisioner on St. Thomas, has asked that boats consider group orders so she too can limit her trips to the store and make more productive provisioning runs.
Consideration of our precious marine environment is very important to local charter crews and the dumping of any kind of waste is a matter taken very seriously. Crews moored near Waterlemon Cay in St. John with scuba diving equipment recently organized a Project AWARE underwater debris cleanup of Lameshur Bay, while another crew in Brewer’s Bay has taken it upon themself to ensure that incoming vessels unfamiliar with the bay avoid anchoring on top of coral reef habitats. Hats off to all crews doing their part to be positive stewards of the community. We see you, and we appreciate you.
SOCIAL MEDIA CHALLENGE
We would like to invite yacht crews to participate in our 20-day Social Media Challenge that begins April 10th and ends April 29th. On the 30th of April, we will announce the winning yachts. Prizes include a MasterClass online code and a case of champagne!
The goal is to share a creative post daily according to the theme associated with each day on the attached schedule. Contestants must use the hashtag #cuphalffullvi to be counted. You can post on Facebook, Instagram or both. Make sure to also tag VIPCA – Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association on Facebook and @vipca_usvi on Instagram. For each day you participate, you will get one point towards the MasterClass online code.
If there is a tie at the end those yachts will be entered into a drawing for the MasterClass online code. In addition, yachts who complete all 20 days will be entered into a drawing for a case of champagne!
Our hope is that this will help keep our guests, followers and future clients engaged, while also serving as a much needed distraction for all. Focusing on the positive and showing solidarity in our industry is important as we remain #vistrong. Feel free to contact your VIPCA crew-representatives for any questions or concerns you have during this time or regarding this challenge. Lets get to sharing and spreading some fun!
Crew Representative Board Directors, VIPCA
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 8, 2020
Virgin Islands Professional Charter Industry Responds to COVID-19 Concerns, Reminds Members of this Economically Vital Marine Tourism Sector of New Emergency Executive Orders
St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. A decades-strong industry and potent contributor to the U.S. Virgin Islands economy, which is often unseen due to the nature of its business, is now in full view public due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over 100 U.S. Virgin Islands based professionally crewed charter vessels are following U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. Jr’s Emergency Executive Orders to not accept guests and, like the territory’s shoreside populace, to shelter in place. This mandate comes at the peak of the marine tourism charter season when this fleet of U.S.-based vessels are normally scattered among the territory’s, as well as neighboring islands’, anchorages on customized 7-day itineraries for their guests. Thus, these vessels, as well as over 70 U.S.-based day charter vessels, are now docked, moored or anchored in what seems increasing numbers in the territory’s bays.
Photo: Charlotte Amalie Harbor, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. Credit: Phil Blake
“The Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA) has 144 USVI-based charter vessel members all of whom are presently ‘grounded’ rather than cruising the Virgin Islands with tourists on board. The professional crew of these Virgin Islands-based yachts have their hearts vested in the Virgin Islands, and wish, as much as land-based residents, to preserve the health both of the people of the Virgin Islands and its environment. In addition to the home-based charter fleet there are also a combination of professionally-run charter yachts who have arrived in the USVI from islands to the south, and cruising yachts with their owners living aboard (often in retirement). VIPCA would like to emphasize to the Virgin Islands public that both home-based and visiting boaters are naturally considerate to their host islands, and will be complying with the Governor’s Executive Orders in addition to maritime regulations such as emptying sewage offshore both by free will and legal obligation,” says Oriel Blake, VIPCA executive director.
YACHTS WELCOME, JUST FOLLOW PROCEDURES
Recognizing the influx of yachts, on March 27, U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan Jr. welcomed U.S.-based and other arriving vessels to the territory. He further encouraged that post-pandemic, those not based in the territory to join the USVI marine family and economy. However, the Governor, as he has outlined in his Emergency Executive Orders for safety of those on shore, reminded all vessels to abide by the orders and compliance requests of agencies such as the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), and any further Emergency Executive Orders issued by the Governor.
“We’re asking the boaters to please adhere to the mandates issued by the Governor by registering for an anchoring permit, completing the health assessment, practicing social distancing by remaining on their vessel and limiting trips to shore, and not to onboard any passengers during this time. We also require that all vessels follow our requirements for the disposal of solid and liquid waste. For any questions please contact DPNR’s Division of Environmental Enforcement at (340) 774-3320 in St. Thomas or (340)773-5776 in St. Croix, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to your return under normal circumstances when you may experience true Virgin Islands hospitality,” says J.P. Oriol, DPNR Commissioner.
Oriol adds that his department has received over 100 anchoring applications since last Thursday. The Department’s officers are now conducting patrols and telling boaters where to go online and get the information. DPNR has identified 19 bays on St. Thomas and Water Island, 4 in St. John and 6 in St. Croix for anchoring specifically until April 30.
Additionally, the Virgin Islands National Park (VINP) has 200 moorings and this week will announce a new mooring reservation program.
“Boaters will need either a VI permit for VI waters/bays or an NPS (National Park Service) reservation, not both,” says Nigel Fields, VINP Superintendent.
Both DPNR and the VINP remind all vessel operators that it is illegal to discharge or discard refuse of any kind within the 3 nautical mile limit of the territorial waters of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
“The professional crew of the home-based charter yachts are very respectful towards the environment and are following usual sewage discharge practices which involve taking their yacht three miles offshore before releasing their holding tanks of black and grey water. VIPCA hopes that the sizable number of visiting yachts who have arrived from other parts of the Caribbean will continue to follow the principles of good boating and shall comply with the Virgin Islands Government regulations including emptying holding tanks offshore,” Says VIPCA’s Blake.
DPNR also recommends vessels make use of online concierge services to the greatest extent possible for provisioning, more information about provisioning concierge (including local produce), trash removal and crew support networks can be found at https://vipca.org.
KEY ROLE IN POST-PANDEMIC TOURISM RECOVERY
VIPCA’s has called on its members to be ambassadors to those visiting yachts and to assist in passing on information.
“Now more than ever, we need to lead by example as it pertains to all of the circumstances that have fallen upon us. Please encourage the Social Distancing, Quarantine-if-needed, Holding Tanks usage, respecting the policies on our beaches to all of those around you. Our role as an industry is to protect the waters, the shores, the people and the culture of the Virgin Islands as it interacts from a marine perspective. Let’s work together,” says Dare Blankenhorn, VIPCA president.
In 2019, the annual direct contribution to the U.S. Virgin Islands economy made by 150 week/term charter vessels, 75-day charter, 17 sport-fishing and 55-bareboat charter vessels was estimated at approximately $45 million. This contribution is made via support to businesses like supermarkets, fuel, restaurants, hotels, taxis, diving/fishing rentals, laundry, port authority fees and dockage. The marine industry is one of the most resilient and was one of the first to generate tourism revenues for the territory after the 2017 hurricanes. Marine tourism offers immediate expansion possibilities. By welcoming these yachts to the territory during the world’s State of Emergency resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, provided that they abide by the rules and that their crew do not come ashore until 14 days quarantine have been safely taken onboard, the Virgin Islands should hope to profit from the strengthening of the marine industry and by its expansion.
More information can be found at the DPNR website: https://dpnr.vi.gov/environmental-enforcement/ and the VIPCA website https://vipca.org/usvi-requirements-for-all-vessels-during-state-of-emergency/
For additional information and questions, contact: Oriel Blake, executive director VIPCA, email@example.com
ABOUT VIPCA: VIPCA is the territory’s 501(c)(6) nonprofit marine association, whose purpose is to promote, protect and further the capabilities of charter yachts and the marine businesses that sustain them. Projects and initiatives VIPCA membership supports include producing a marine directory of local information, technical advice and resources; improving Customs and Border Protection facilities; gaining ease of access for charter vessels between the USVI and Spanish Virgin Islands; compliance guidance; moving forward a proposal to manage territory wide new transient moorings; marine vocational training for V.I. youth; and surveying and cleaning up bays and mangroves under the organization’s charity fiscally sponsored by Community Foundation Virgin Islands (CFVI.net), VI Marine Rebuild Fund. vipca.org
VI National Park is not collecting trash at this time. This means that boaters trash, piling up at full bays like Francis Bay and Maho Bay, are being collected by the truck-load on a volunteer basis by our staff and others in the community. We are working on getting a better solution as this is unsustainable as the duration of time we anticipate ports closed elsewhere lengthens. Additionally, the park has waived the moorings overnight use fee for this time period understanding the challenges facing cruisers in particular. We ask that everyone please be mindful as possible as we all learn to work together in new ways! Thank you!
VIPCA has updated the following link:
VIPCA has updated the following link:
Dear VIPCA Members,
GOVERNMENT UPDATE FOR THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS MARCH 20th:
The U.S. Virgin Islands has 3 individuals who have tested positive at this time, 8 tested negative, and 33 test results are pending. The Government is strongly urging that residents and visitors utilize social distancing to help us contain the Virus and prevent spreading throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands (https://doh.vi.gov/). Effective March 21 at 6 a.m., a maximum of 10 people will be enforced on all social gatherings/events, including bars and restaurants. Large retailers (Home Depot, Kmart, PriceSmart, Plaza Extra & Cost-U-Less) will still be allowed a maximum of 50 and on Mondays from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., Plaza Extra will be open for senior shopping only. Please refrain from shopping during this time if you are not a senior citizen. Government services will be restricted March 23 through April 6. There will be a 60 day extension on license renewals to include motor vehicles and business licenses. There is also no curfew in place at this time; however, the Governor would prefer if all businesses suspend or highly restrict services and there are national recommendations to refrain from non-essential travel.
MINUTES FROM EMERGENCY VIPCA BOARD MEETING MARCH 19th:
1. Since an arriving charter guest or yacht owner could be exposed to COVID-19 during air travel and may not be able to social distance adequately upon arrival in the U.S. Virgin Islands, VIPCA recommends to its members that charters are discontinued as of March 22nd for 30
VIPCA’s concerns are for…
a. …the crew who could be exposed to COVID-19 through contact with the charter guest / yacht owner;
b. …the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands who could be exposed to COVID-19 through contact with the charter guest / yacht owner between the airport and the yacht; and,
c. …the charter guest or yacht owner who could contract the virus during travel either to, from, or in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
GUIDANCE FOR CHARTERER: As of today, Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas and Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix are open for inbound and outbound travel; however VIPCA has been advised by the Governor that guidance from the CDC should be utilized: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/travelers/travel-in-the-us.html.
GUIDANCE FOR CAPTAINS: Please talk to your clearing house if you have concerns and refer to this document for further support. You may always reach out to VIPCA. https://www.ics-shipping.org/docs/default-source/resources/coronavirus-(covid-19)-guidance-for-ship-operators-for-the-protection-of-the-health-of-seafarers.pdf?sfvrsn=6
NOTE ON BEACHES AND RESTAURANTS: If voluntary social distancing is not maintained by beachgoers, the Governor will consider beach closures as of this weekend. Restaurants have a limitation of 10 people as of Saturday March 21 at 6 a.m., and therefore will likely transition to take-outs only.
2. VIPCA’s Recommended Protocol for Charter Cancellation / Re-Scheduling:a. The specific terms of the particular charter contract control, but there are many different contracts, and even the “standard” CYBA contract is often changed by brokers through their insertion or deletion of clauses. Given that there is no one standard contract, and the facts and circumstance can vary widely, VIPCA cannot recommend a set course of action for yachts regarding cancellations, rescheduling, or escrowed funds. Worldwide, great legal minds are looking at various force majeure clauses as a result of the pandemic and they are often unable to agree on whether Covid-19 is or is not a force majeure event given a clause’s particular wording. Ultimately, the courts will need to resolve many force majeure issues. For that reason, VIPCA recommends, whenever possible, that the parties to the contract amicably agree to any required changes by way of addendum to the contract. And, of course, if the yacht is unsure of their legal obligations under a contract, they should contact an attorney.b. While the charter contracts may contain a cancellation clause, VIPCA recommends that in order for the charter industry to remain competitive in tourism that re-scheduling should be permissible for charters that are 30 days out. Clients should be able to reschedule a charter to occur within one year of their original dates. If the charter rate has increased, the guest should be expected to pay the additional amount.
a. HOWEVER, yachts may wish to inquire if there is trip insurance available. While it appears “most” trip insurers are not providing pandemic coverage under “most” policies, if there is a “Cancel for Any Reason” (CFAR) trip insurance policy, then the guest has the ability to cancel the charter – usually this needs to be done at least 48 hours before the start of the charter, but the particular policy terms will control. Often times the payout under CFAR is not for the full charter amount, but if there is insurance available, the client should avail themselves of the coverage and allow escrowed funds to inure to the benefit of the yacht, at least in part, if not entirely. If necessary, the yacht could work with the guest in terms of pricing for the second charter. There is no reason for the yacht to take a financial hit when there are insurance benefits available.
b. If there are no insurance benefits available and the client reschedules their current charter for either later in 2020 or 2021 and the client subsequently cancels for any reason, there should be 100% forfeiture of the funds. Guests should be encouraged to purchase trip insurance for a rescheduled charter if they have none.
d. The addendum should be signed PRIOR TO the current charter date.
e. VIPCA does not condone Charter Brokers threatening to blacklist any yacht which requests a rebooking fee since same is a commercially reasonable item. It should be left up to the guest as to whether they accept a rebooking fee, and not for the charter broker to dictate. VIPCA would encourage yachts to be reasonable in regard to any rebooking fees and would not recommend yachts requesting a rebooking fee in excess of 10%.
3. VIPCA will continue to serve as a conduit for information and to send emails to members pertaining to:
a. Virgin Islands Government updates
b. U.S. Coast Guard updates
c. V.I. Port Authority updates
e. Marine Vendors (chandleries and marine service suppliers)
For updates with regards to marine vendor hours of operation or potential temporary closure: Please see this link to a google spreadsheet being updated where members can learn of the marine businesses status of operation; VIPCA encourages members to comment if they learn new information not included already.
4. VIPCA has inquired as to the Government’s actions with regards to business loans and unemployment:
The following was replied by the Governor’s Office March 20th: “$30 million dollars in small interest loans was made available by a Presidential Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Declaration, last week, through the U.S. Small Business Administration for Coronavirus-related economic disruptions. The process for U.S. Virgin Island’s business, to include charter vessels and maritime support business, to access SBA’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Disaster Relief Lending requires Governor Bryan to issue a U.S. Virgin Islands Economic Injury Disaster Loan Declaration. Today we have successfully completed and forwarded our package requesting an SBA Economic Injury Declaration. Our SBA representative forwarded our package to headquarters shortly after receiving it. We were informed the process may take up to five days before we obtain approval. However, at the rate headquarters has been processing requests, the time frame may be shorter.” Mr. Toya V.A. Malone, Policy Advisor, Officer of the Governor.