June 25, 2003 – Coast Guard officials in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have temporarily detained a number of small foreign cargo ships in recent weeks after finding that their captains did not have proper licenses.
Lt. John Reinert, the Coast Guard commanding officer on St. Thomas, said on Tuesday that his unit and others were notified by Miami headquarters three weeks ago that some ships' masters were operating in U.S. waters with mariner licenses valid only for their local waters.
Since then, he said, half a dozen vessels have been detained in V.I. waters and four more have been stopped by Coast Guard officials off Puerto Rico.
"These are small cargo vessels," Reinert said. "I believe the tonnage regulation is under 300 gross tons … They are foreign-flagged vessels carrying anything and everything. I kind of describe them as the UPS of the vessel fleet."
The detentions have been brief, he said, with all of the freighters released after Coast Guard officials contacted their owners or home offices to say that if the freighters return to U.S. waters, they must be under the command of a master holding proper credentials.
"Under the International Maritime Organization, certain countries can give valid licenses that are recognized throughout the organization, the United States being one," Reinert said. To be allowed to issue such licenses, he said, "countries have to meet certain requirements that are across-the-board equal for safety at sea for these mariners and their vessels."
The problem, he said, is "that there are certain countries that are not supposed to be giving licenses to mariners for international voyages. They can give licenses for their own waters, but for international voyages they have to meet the requirement of the IMO."
Reinert did not say where the vessels that have been detained are registered.
He said officials in Miami, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have been advised to monitor Caribbean cargo vessels and their operators for compliance. The Coast Guard will continue to check the licenses of masters coming into V.I. waters from foreign ports, he said.
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