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New BVI Regulations for Charter and Commercial Vessels

Back in February of 2004, the Merchant Shipping Act was passed by the BVI Government. Simply put, this act states that for all vessels carrying more than 12 paying passengers, the government of the BVI will now require a test for stability information. The stability side of this law was never enforced because there was no one in the BVI authorized by Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) to do this.

This Agency is responsible, throughout the UK and its territories, for implementing the government’s maritime safety policy. That includes co-coordinating search and rescue at sea through Her Majesty’s Coastguard, and checking that ships meet UK and international safety rules. The MCA works to prevent the loss of lives at the coast and at sea, to ensure that ships are safe, and to prevent coastal pollution. They are putting increasing effort into prevention work and this is where the new stability tests come into play for the BVI.

Caribbean Marine Surveyors (CMS) has now been approved by the government of the BVI to carry out the stability testing and MCA code inspections. Bill Bailey, owner and principle surveyor, was recently approved by the IIMS Certifying authority for this testing within the BVI. Now operators of commercial boats in the BVI will know the number of passengers and equipment they can safely carry and comply with the law as a result of stability testing.

Stability tests are also important safeguards for liability claims in the event of court action as well as a precaution for saving lives. Meeting these requirements also demonstrates to visitors that the BVI is applying internationally accepted safety measures.

According to Bailey there are several steps for concerned vessels to follow to receive certification. It is up to individual captains and companies to apply for certification of their vessels.

First, the vessel’s captain/company should make a request to the BVI Government for an inspection

Second, a government surveyor will then inspect the boat and determine which of the stability tests are required. There are four different tests – depending on the number of passengers and the distance from land requested in the application. The government could run the stability test themselves or delegate this to an approved company, such as CMS.

Third, to do this CMS runs the test warranted for the applicant. The government will provide an independent observer (one of the three BVI government surveyors) so that the government can witness that the test has been carried out in compliance with the Code of Safety for Small Commercial Vessels operating in the Caribbean.

Fourth, CMS then submits the test results to the government.

Fifth, the government then reviews the test and issues a Certificate of Stability or stability letter. One of these is now required of all commercial vessels operating in BVI waters. This includes vessels from other countries that operate commercially in BVI waters.

Sixth, the vessel shall then have permanent loading marks placed on each side forward, amidships and aft to indicate the maximum allowable draft and trim corresponding to the minimum freeboard determined according to Certificate issued.

Finally, this must be done if the vessel is altered or modified in any way – or every five years. Failure to comply could result in the vessel’s detention by the authorities.

In closing Bailey tells All At Sea, “All vessels built after February 2004 and carrying 13 or more passengers must have a full stability assessment and a stability book drawn up by a Navel Architect. Vessels built before February 2004, that can show more than five years of safe operation in the area of use, may only need a simplified stability heel test and a stability letter, at the discretion of the BVI Government Administration.”

We sincerely hope that laws such as this, as inconvenient as they may be personally, will provide a safer passage for us all at sea.

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