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.
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.
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.