July 22, 2003 – A judge in the British Virgin Islands signed an order on Tuesday to allow a fishing boat registered in U.S. Virgin Islands to be returned home while its owner and captain wait to stand trial on illegal fishing charges.
B.V.I. authorities seized the 38-foot Black Pearl on June 13 on the North Drop during the Virgin Islands Gamefishing Club's annual June Moon tournament.
The boat owner, Scott Niddrie of St. Thomas, and its captain, Jimmy Estrasa, were later charged with fishing in B.V.I. waters without a license and registration, crimes that carry a maximum penalty of a $500,000 fine.
Magistrate Gail Charles on Tuesday signed a consent order agreed to by the B.V.I. Attorney General's Office and lawyers representing Niddrie and Estrasa. Under its terms, the boat will be released after its owners pay a $15,000 cash bond to the court.
Oscar Ramjeet, a lawyer representing Niddrie and Estrasa, said the money would be paid immediately so the boat could be released as soon as possible.
The trial for Niddrie and Estrasa has been scheduled for Sept. 5.
Meanwhile, the same court is scheduled to rule on Wednesday on a motion to dismiss charges against Rick and Jason Berry, two St. Thomas fishermen who were charged last year with illegal fishing in B.V.I. waters.
On July 15, B.V.I. authorities released another U.S. boat which had been seized after it was spotted three days earlier fishing on the North Drop. The Conservation and Fisheries Department sternly warned Jose Ramírez Jr. of Puerto Rico, owner of the vessel, the Whopper, that he must follow the laws if he wants to fish.
"You should continue on all occasions to comply with the laws of the B.V.I. as you have been doing before," Bertrand Lettsome, chief conservation officer, wrote to Ramírez. Authorities said they released the 48-foot, Delaware-registered vessel because Ramírez had always complied with local laws in the past.
Ramírez has since applied for and received a fishing license, authorities said.
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