June 28, 2002 – Delegate Donna M Christensen is pushing for change to a U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service policy put into effect after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The policy requires daysail and overnight charter boat captains in the territory to clear all their passengers through Immigration in person if they've visited the British Virgin Islands.
Previously, captains whose passengers were all U.S. citizens could just fax a list of their names to the INS office, while those with foreign passengers had to visit the Immigration office in person with their passengers.
The change has caused problems for the territory's charter boat industry. "It's a hassle to have to go all the way to Cruz Bay," said a Coral Bay, St. John, charter boat captain who did not want his name used.
Susan Chandler, executive director of the V.I. Charteryacht League, agreed with the boat captain. "It will kill the daysail boats," she said. Many boats run half-day sails to Jost Van Dyke or Norman Island with lots of cruise ship passengers on board, she noted, and it's very difficult to do the trip, clear the passengers in and get them back to their cruise ships in time for departure. "This totally cuts into their day," Chandler said.
As for longer overnight charters, she said in a letter to James W. Ziglar, Immigration director, their trips are being cut short by a day in order to clear in.
The Coral Bay boat captain said while Immigration officials allow him to drive his passengers to the Cruz Bay office instead of sailing there, the policy still means he has to cut his charters short so as to get his passengers to the office by 5:30 p.m. to get them cleared by the 6 p.m. closing time. By the time he drives back to Coral Bay, he's added an hour and a half to his day.
He added that if he were inclined to smuggle terrorists into the territory — which he emphasized he is not — he would not do it with a boatful of paying passengers. Since the number of passengers aboard a charter boat is small, it is unlikely that a terrorist would go unnoticed, he said. Rather, "They'd want to come on a ferry with a lot of people."
Both he and Chandler noted that cruise ship passengers already have gone through Immigration inspection once that day upon disembarking from their ships.
Most daysails visiting the B.V.I. depart from Cruz Bay or Red Hook, and stopping at the Immigration office on the way back is not such an inconvenience.
The Coral Bay captain also pointed out that St. John's East End is a hot spot for illegal aliens to come ashore. He suggested that Immigration would do better to put its resources toward rounding up such people, rather than making life more difficult for residents trying to earn a living. However, he acknowledged that the policy came from high up the Immigration chain of command, not from the local office.
Christensen said in a news release that charter boat captains have told her they may go out of business by the end of the year if the fax system isn't reinstated. She said Immigration authorities have promised to investigate the matter and to balance security needs against the concerns of charter operators.
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