Statement By Premier And Minister Of Finance Honourable Andrew A. Fahie On The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry

STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE DURING THE SIXTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY

Wednesday, 10th March, 2021

VIRGIN ISLANDS SHIPPING REGISTRY

Mr. Speaker, I now wish to update this Honourable House on what is happening at the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry as it marks the transformational period for shipping in the Virgin Islands.

A moment that we are using to celebrate all our accomplishments in transforming our industry towards international standards; while appreciating that there is much more to do to attract tonnage and boost the economy.

Mr. Speaker, I will take you on a voyage as I discuss your Government’s plan for shipping in the Virgin Islands.

Your Government has refused to adapt the ship has sailed mentality; thus, we went back to the drawing board to revamp and reform the Shipping Industry in the Virgin Islands and I am proud to give you an update today.

It was just about a year and a half ago at the launch of the “Back to the Seas” Maritime Industry Training Programme that I told you that the marine sector is one of the BVI’s most valuable assets, but its potential is untapped and under-exploited.

Commercial maritime activity is already huge in the BVI.

It spans small tourist crafts to large shipping vessels, as well as the marinas, docks, ports and infrastructure, and the services such as hospitality and technical services that support them. It is an area that has a very wide scope – much wider than many people realise. Though commercial maritime activity is already huge in the Virgin Islands, there is lots of room for growth.

We boast the title “Sailing Capital of the World”, so it is only fitting that we reform, and invest more in our shipping industry so that it reaches its full potential, and beyond.

The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is the agency responsible for ensuring that all international maritime conventions are maintained.

And, more than ever it is crucial that we maintain our Category One General Register status of British Ships within the Red Ensign Group and other international certifications received.

Shipping Registry has received and is in the process of receiving several international certifications, and moreover, these certifications are one step in ensuring that we remain competitive and maintain international standards. We want our clientele to have the most confidence in our product and service.

I must say that we are poised to perfect all the processes in all of the maritime conventions to subsequently dominate the shipping realm.

My role as Minister of Finance is to ensure that the finances of the Virgin Islands are allocated appropriately, and shipping is an area that was in the need of much improvement.

Mr. Speaker, this is why your Government, collectively has invested in the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry. The Cabinet of the Virgin Islands approved funding for the marketing, human resources, technological tools and other resources to improve the Registry.

There are many economic reasons why we need to reform shipping.

For far too long we have been dependant on two major economic pillars: Financial Services and Tourism; and though we are blessed to enjoy the fruits of the labour of those who came before us – your Government is here to ensure that the necessary advancements are made to allow the Virgin Islands to enjoy a stable economy going forward.

Our vision is to transform the Virgin Islands into a leading regional economy through entrepreneurship, innovation and local and foreign investment; and our shipping industry will be an integral part of this.

Mr. Speaker, again, I say to you the people of the Virgin Islands nothing your Government is doing for you is in isolation, everything is inherently linked to ensure that we prosper as a destination and jurisdiction.

The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry offers very competitive registration and annual maintenance fees, and hosts a technical support team that meets all international standards. The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry certificates are recognised worldwide.

This means that any citizen or body corporate of the United Kingdom, its Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, or of a member state of the European Community/European Economic Area, bodies corporate incorporated in a member state of the Caribbean Community or the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) qualifies to register a ship in the BVI. For those who do not qualify directly the usual practice is to incorporate a British Virgin Islands business company to act as the owner.

So, you see Mr. Speaker, here shipping is linked to our Financial Services product.

The registration of vessels is important to our Financial Services and Tourism economies. There is economic diversity where vessels can register in BVI through company registry. This then leads to a spin off for the global tourism market.

We have thousands of vessels on our flag currently and the majority of our clientele is recreational, including large commercial mega yachts – but we do also have commercial vessels on our flag.

It is important that we continue to improve our product offering to leverage and expand the services we provide to our clients; and to attract other categories of vessels, larger vessels, tankers, bulk carriers, containerships, and one day perhaps even cruise ships.

Mr. Speaker, vessels that have never come to the BVI can be registered here; and perhaps we can structure our substance requirements to make it beneficial for shipping companies to have operational and or management functions and offices in the BVI. And it is one of the avenues that your Government will continue to promote as a revenue stream.

Mr. Speaker, we must remain competitive as large countries have done and embrace modern trends aimed at attracting tonnage for economic growth and prestige.

As we continue the reopening of our tourism industry in this new regular of living and working with COVID-19, diversification of our tourism product is important.

Shipping is another avenue that we intend to use to achieve this.

We cannot deny that one of our biggest attractions here in the Virgin Islands is our pristine waters and we must capitalise on the interest of persons coming to enjoy our waters for leisure.

Boaters are coming to enjoy our small cluster of islands with secluded anchorages, splendid beaches, world-class marine industry, favourable trade winds, stunning pristine land and seascapes.

This will have a positive impact on our tourism industry as mooring companies, restauranteurs, hoteliers, supermarkets, local stores, shutter services, taxi drivers fuel companies will all benefit from this economic activity.

Mr. Speaker, all Virgin Islanders have the opportunity to have a stake in this industry.

As the industry continues to grow there will be need for expansions of docks, moorings and other infrastructure which will further boost our construction industry.

Additionally, there also will be a need for captains, deck hands, engineers, stewards, chefs, naval architects, maritime consultant and more.

This is why your Government has invested in its people first through the Maritime Industry Training Programme at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College so that the future of the Virgin Islands is prepared to dominate this industry.

Maritime training programme is progressing well as we are now on our second cohort of students which include females.

I thank the Deputy Premier and Minister of Education, Board of Directors, President and staff of the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College and the industry partners who serve as sponsors for management and success of this programme thus far.

I am pleased to say that very soon we will have several trained and experienced human resource to support on the ground, and on the water, here at our home port.

Despite the current state of the world, we have not battened down our hatches; the Virgin Islands remains poised as a sailing Mecca – We are open for business! In terms of the future of the shipping industry in the Virgin Islands I am happy and energised about the new prospects and I hope that you are too.

Mr. Speaker, our Registry is modernising its service offerings and is in the process of revamping its online presence to better suit the needs of its clientele. The suite of e-Government will enhance the services to be provided.

This is why we will be moving towards privatising the Shipping Registry as a Statutory Body. We expect that this will further improve service quality, increase efficiency and innovation, improve maintenance and allow us as policy makers to steer rather than row.

While we recognise that our marine industry is big business, it has the potential to grow even bigger, and your Government, together with the team at the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry (VISR), is working to put the necessary things in place for us to unlock this potential.

Recognising this reality, the team at the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry has been working on a rigorous timetable and I must say that the Director of the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, Mr. John Samuel, has been pushing, and I am pleased that the Premier’s Office has been providing the much needed policy support to help the team stay ahead of projected targets.

With the cooperation and commitment, and that of your Government and Public Officers across all Ministries, Departments and Agencies, Cabinet, House of Assembly, the business community, we have managed to work together to get the Shipping Registry moving forward. Each agency play an instrumental role in us maintaining our stake in the industry internationally.

We also thank the Deputy Governor’s Office and the Governor’s Office for the role they have played as well in this process so far.

I want to especially thank the Administrative arm through the Premier’s Office for pushing beyond the limit to make things happen.

Mr. Speaker, your Government, brought different pieces of legislation to the House of Assembly like the Merchant Shipping Act, for example, to strength the industry in many ways.

Mr. Speaker, this Government has been bringing forward Maritime policies covering shipping operations, safety of life at sea, security and the prevention of, and response to, pollution from ships.

We have been bringing forward legislation to implement and enforce the regulations applicable to all Virgin Islands vessels on both domestic and international routes, and for all vessels navigating the waters of the Virgin Islands.

Your Government is committed to ensuring that we continually, as an economy, develop and adopt appropriate standards of training, evaluation and certification for Virgin Islands seafarers and on-shore staff in accordance with the respective needs of international and domestic shipping and the BVI maritime industry.

Shipping has made some remarkable achievements within the last few months.

Mr. Speaker, the BVI as a maritime nation is authorised via international maritime conventions extended to us by the United Kingdom (UK).

Before the conventions can be extended the UK verifies that BVI has the legislation and administration in place to execute those conventions.

This is where the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry fits in – the Maritime Administration of the Virgin Islands and therefore directly responsible for most matters of maritime safety and navigation.

In very simple layman terms Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is responsible for anything in and around the BVI waters that are not alive – boats – buoys charts and things like that. If it is in or on the water and you are not sure – call the Virgin Islands Shipping registry.

This maritime administration consists of a team that is perhaps the most highly qualified maritime and registration professionals in the Caribbean.

Many persons may not be aware, but right here at the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, on staff, there is a full team of marine surveyors; and they are able to handle any task of any size or configuration.

It is important that our potential global clients are aware of this, and locally they now have ship owners with significant fleet investments and we would like them to be aware that our Virgin Islands Shipping Registry can handle their business right here in the Virgin Islands.

There is no need to go halfway across the world to register your vessel, the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry can provide its clients with a quality flag and the services and certification to support that flag and support your vessels and your shipping operations – And they can save money while doing so. Surveyors are right here in BVI.

In 2020 Shipping Registry was awarded Qualship status by the US Coast guard. In other words, our BVI vessels when checked in US ports have consistently met or exceeded the requisite international maritime standards.

Mr. Speaker, this is important because it is evidence that Virgin Islands Shipping Registry can provide quality certification to support the needs of mariners, and instills industry confidence in us.

That was a 2020 accomplishment and they have many more on the horizon, but today, Mr. Speaker, I wish to highlight with great joy, our ISO 9001:2015 achievement.

Mr. Speaker, you may ask what is ISO?

ISO is the International Organization for Standardization which is an independent, non-Governmental, international organisation that develops standards to ensure the quality, safety, and efficiency of products, services, and systems.

The organisation develops standards in order to certify businesses or organizations. ISO 9001 is among ISO’s best-known standards, and it defines the criteria for meeting a number of quality management principles. It helps businesses and organisations be more efficient and improve customer satisfaction.

The final number in an ISO certification refers to the version of the standard that is being met and is represented by the calendar year in which those standards were launched. 2015 is the fifth edition of ISO 9001. It was launched in September 2015.

Certification is done by an approved ISO certifying body and each applicant is subject to an audit to verify compliance prior to being certified; and organisations are required to be audited annually to verify the operational presence of the requisite management systems.

In January and February 2021 Virgin Islands Shipping Registry was audited by Global Compliance Services, a certifying body based in the USA. This audit was completed over a two week period during which our entire management system was reviewed.

This involved a document review of all Shipping Registry’s manuals and procedures, and interviews with key line managers to verify knowledge of the systems; and commitment to quality standards and organisational growth and compliance.

Global Compliance Services has verified that our management system, our services, and our documentation procedures here at the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry have all met the requirements for standardisation and quality assurance.

Mr. Speaker, I am proud to report to this Honourable House that the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is now ISO 9001 certified in accordance with the 2015 standards ISO9001:2015; and we are now one of the BVI’s industry leaders; and equivalent to our peers and flags globally having in place an internationally accredited management system. This guarantees our clients in the BVI, a globally efficient service, customer satisfaction, consistency and quality across our various products and services.

The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is a member of the Red Ensign Group of the United Kingdom flags.

This group which includes the United Kingdom’s presence via the United Kingdom Maritime and Coast Guard Agency commonly called the MCA is world renown as a group of quality British flags, bolstered by British Maritime Law.

This affords our clients hassle free transit into and out of foreign ports and the ability for vessel financiers to secure mortgages on the BVI Ships Register similarly to the method used to document mortgages and liens on lands and property.

Mr. Speaker, this accomplishment is huge, and to this I say to GOD BE ALL THE GLORY.

Mr. Speaker, boats, ships and vessel mortgages on the BVI register are secure; our legislation in this area has been in existence for many years and is currently in use by many BVI clients whose vessels are trading in various ports globally.

Mr. Speaker, many of these vessels you may not see in the BVI; but they fly the BVI flag and carry the name of one of our BVI registration ports Road harbor, White Bay, or Gorda Sound on their sterns or transoms as they sail globally.

We wish to highlight that this is not just for our international clients but these options, facilities, and services are available to our BVI financial institutions and BVI based clients as well.

Shipping Registry’s success model includes the facilitation of more BVI based marine mortgages; allowing us the opportunity to convert more of the BVI resident fleet to the BVI flag and supporting new symbiotic avenues across the BVI economies.

Our desire is to support the BVI maritime commercial, recreational, and tourism products and to see our BVI red ensign – the red BVI flag with the Vigilate in the top corner – flying on every boat based in the BVI.

To achieve this we require the co-operation of the banks, brokers, agents and lawyers; and this is a discussion that we will be arranging to have.

A discussion that will improve industry awareness of our BVI brand; our BVI flag; and the resilience and security of the BVI Registration product.

Further at the Shipping Registry, they are already hard at work and knee deep in policy development to enhance the benefits and opportunities of flagging BVI; and to create owner benefits and tangible economic links between our commercial recreational maritime industries and BVI flagged vessels.

Mr. Speaker, in simple terms; we aim to create processing and financial advantages to boats that are flagged BVI and wish to utilise the BVI commercial recreational tourism product. Our flag has a role to play in strengthening our economy, securing our economic base and reducing the broad scale export of liquid financial assets from our economy.

We will be forging stronger relationships with our financial industry in support of these goals. Many additional financial and marketing benefits can result from further expansion of our fleet of registered vessels, not only in volume but also in vessel size and type.

As a maritime nation, the BVI is subject to verification of compliance under the International Maritime Organization’s Instrument Implementation Code commonly called the Triple I Code.

This code highlights the key elements required to demonstrate compliance with all International Maritime Organization (IMO) conventions.

Compliance is verified via an IMO audit which is scheduled for mid-year for UK flags.

Mr. Speaker, in short – in order for the BVI to operate its flag – registration, and for BVI ports to accept and trade unrestrictedly the BVI MUST adhere to and implement the maritime conventions that we have agreed to.

In the BVI the conventions are implemented across various Government Departments and agencies including:

1. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission responsible for maritime radio communication;

2. The Royal Virgin Islands Police force who currently leads Search and Rescue in BVI waters;

3. International Convention on Maritime Search and Rescue (SAR Convention);

4. The Ministry of Natural Resources with responsibility for Maritime Pollution. International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL Convention);

5. BVI Ports Authority and Virgin Islands Shipping Registry who has overall oversight and responsibility for maritime matters in BVI waters;

6. International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS); and

7. International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers (STCW Conventions).

It is important that we understand these things and that there is an awareness of not only what we are doing but why the BVI is doing these things. We are aware that greater dissemination of information is required; and additional public education on the maritime affairs of the BVI.

There are requirements that have to be met; we may have not been fully compliant but we have ramped up our preparation and development significantly in the third and fourth quarters of 2020.

Mr. Speaker through the tremendous and overwhelming support of this Government, the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry has been keeping Cabinet busy with policy decisions, legislative and procedural adjustments, and requests for financing to

The public would’ve become aware of a recent cabinet decision regarding the establishment of a rescue co-ordination centre.

This is one clear example of improvements that are NOT optional to ensure our compliance and our ability to continue to operate an unrestricted flag and unrestricted ports.

In this example BVI as a maritime nation is required to broadcast marine weather forecasts, navigational warnings, maintain radio watch for distress calls on various frequencies, manage traffic in territorial waters, manage search and rescue cases in accordance with SOLAS standards, among others — This we have NOT been doing.

The rescue coordination centre will rectify this issue, improve the safety standards of BVI waters to the internationally required standard and close this gap.

There are many additional shortcomings that we have rectified over the past few months, and others that are still in process.

Mr. Speaker, expect to hear and see more of the shipping registry over the coming months as we enter our final preparation stages and advance various developments that are required for our success and the BVI’s long term success.

The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is on target, at a critical time in our growth. The team is leading growth and change, and to advance, recreate and prepare our maritime industries for tomorrow is exciting work.

This is a time of opportunity for the business of shipping and flagging with the Virgin Islands.

Mr. Speaker, our path is not complete as we approach a UK mock audit in late March or early April; and the IMO triple I code audit in the third quarter but we have made so many improvements in the BVI maritime space in these past months.

I extend a heartfelt thank you to staff of the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry, on behalf of my Government of Virgin islands and I, who has taken us far along this journey.

The team has already made sterling progress in bringing us to where we need to be.

They worked night and day during the Christmas Holidays to ensure that the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry was able to achieve ISO9001:2015 certification – a task the naysayers said was impossible, but which was achieved in record time, with God’s help.

Anything is possible when you put your mind to it. And when Virgin Islanders resolve to achieve something, there is nothing that can stop our indomitable spirit.

Mr. Speaker, I thank you.

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