STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE SEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
THURSDAY, 15TH APRIL, 2021
STATEMENT BY PREMIER FAHIE - RE-OPENING OF ROAD TOWN JETTY TO INTERNATIONAL FERRY PASSENGER OPERATIONS AND MARINE SECTOR UPDATE
Mr. Speaker the Road Town Jetty to International Ferry Passengers is now fully operational effective today 15th April, 2021.
Mr. Speaker, on 10th November, 2020 I came to the people of the Virgin Islands to speak on the Phase III Reopening of the borders of the Virgin Islands. I advised at that time that the 1st December reopening at the Terrence B. Lettsome International Airport would allow us to gauge whether we could move ahead with the planned reopening for our Seaports.
I have not been shy to indicate the many difficult decisions that this Government has had to make during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to keep person’s safe while balancing lives and livelihood. But these decisions are always in keeping with our first priority- the health and safety of the people of the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Speaker on 23rd November, The British Virgin Islands Ports Authority (BVIPA) engaged in its first inter-agency simulation exercise comprised of frontier Government Agencies, Health Authorities and Ferry Operators as part of its preparation for the planned reopening of the Road Town Seaport.
They conducted a live simulation exercise of both an arriving and departing international ferry, participants physically walked through the multi-agency plans, discussed and identified effective approaches, measures and response strategies to a multitude of scenarios.
Referring to their experience, knowledge and skills, as well as existing standard operating procedures and contingency plans the agencies and ferry operators’ focus was on the safe and smooth operation of arriving and departing guests through the ferry port.
Mr. Speaker, based on the findings of that first simulation and other critical issues that were brought to the attention of this Government, it was decided that we could not permit the reopening of the Road Town Jetty for that initial date of 8th December, 2020.
Since then, Mr. Speaker a reopening date for January 2021 was suggested and quickly pushed back to March 2021 and finally due to the many adjustments and physical improvements that were required for both international and domestic ferry operations to safely operate during this pandemic a final reopening date of 15th April, 2021, was announced.
Mr. Speaker, the new health and safety requirements that are necessary to keep our visitors and residents safe during this juncture have fostered unforeseen challenges and we had to ensure that gaps were addressed before the BVIPA, terminal operators, government agencies, and partners all meet exemplary standards so that returning and departing visitors and residents can safely and efficiently utilise the Road Town Jetty or any other Seaport that will eventually reopen for international passenger movement.
Mr. Speaker, I am so please to be able to once again announce that the BVI Ports Authority (BVIPA) and partnering agencies that have been collaborating to reopen to International Ferry Transportation at the Road Town Jetty whilst adhering to all established health protocols for COVID-19 is now operational effective today 15th April.
Mr. Speaker, contrary to the few naysayers, we have once again defied the odds and we are now open to receive international passengers through one of our Seaports. This is an economy on the move. This is your Government working for you.
The Seaport option on BVI Gateway is now LIVE and persons wishing to transit via St. Thomas, USVI to our Territory can begin their application process. Mr. Speaker, it is important to note that the testing and quarantine regulations remain the same as for persons who enter our Territory by air. Mr. Speaker allow me to repeat that, it is important to note that the testing and quarantine regulations remain the same as for persons who enter our Territory by air.
Mr. Speaker, as a Government, we recognise that the marine industry has been challenged since the onset of COVID-19 and in the form of a stimulus to the marine industry, I announce that this Government has extended a reduction of fees for the 2020 to 2021 season, for the licensing year 1st November, 2020 to 31st October, 2021.
And Mr. Speaker I must give credit to our Territorial At-large member Honourable Neville Smith, Deputy Speaker for the idea for have this initiative move forward especially our marine industry
Protocols to permit Mega Yachts were passed on 6th November 2020, and we have since welcomed back some of these yachts and their guests.
Mr. Speaker, we are reviving and stimulating our marine industry! Mr. Speaker, we are strengthening our economy.
On 11th January, 2021 we began to host our Warm lay-up calls with Royal Caribbean Group and the initial time frame was extended due to the success of our efforts in offering this service, while adhering to all established health protocols.
Mr. Speaker, we welcome the return of Cruise Tourism in 2021. When this decision was made, it was not met with much favour because the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) had not approved the restart of the cruise industry due to the relevant protocols not being agreed upon. However, since then, the CDC has recently announced approved health and safety protocols for the cruise industry, thereby allowing the industry to reconvene in a safe manner. Clearly your Government was once again proactive in its actions in this COVID-19 era.
Cruise operators are expected to demonstrate adherence to embarkation testing, social distancing, masking and 100 percent vaccination requirements for guests over 18 and all crew.
Mr. Speaker, it is now our turn as an economy to prepare for the return of the cruise industry to the BVI shores. Get your services ready! Get your businesses ready! Get your staff ready! Get yourselves ready because the BVI Cruise sector is coming back!
As a new revenue stream initiative to further strengthen and diversify our economy, your Government is championing amendments to the Cruising and Homeport Permit Act to allow for the BVI to a be a hub for home porting. This means that, once approved, cruises can now originate in the BVI. Mr. Speaker, I repeat that, once approved, cruises can now originate in the BVI.
Mr. Speaker, to allow us to become competitive in this area, your Government has significantly reduce the per passenger head tax for all cruises originating in the BVI. This initiative will further strengthen our economy in the near future. This is innovation. This is your Government working for you.
Mr. Speaker, our aim is to also register cruise ships with BVI flags. We also have incentives for charter companies to base their operations in the BVI, as they too will benefit from the amendment to the Cruising and Homeport Act with reduced fees which will now be significantly less that the fees paid by charter companies that are not registered in the BVI.
Mr. Speaker, these are only some of the many initiatives your Government is working on to further strengthen the economy of the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you.