The Virgin Islands Shipping and Maritime Authority Act, 2023 successfully received assent on October 16, 2023. It is now imminent that The Virgin Islands Shipping Registry will become independent of the Central Government of the Virgin Islands and carry out its operations as a statutory body.
The Act is the culmination of many years of hard work and will allow for the realization of a long-established goal of the Shipping Registry. As a statutory body, the Shipping Registry will now have greater autonomy in making decisions that generate revenue, facilitate growth, and expand its services in keeping with international maritime community demands and market trends.
In the interest of continued development of trade and investment within the Virgin Islands, the Act is designed to enhance the Shipping Registry’s functionality and regulatory responsibility, given its role within the Financial Services industry which is an economic pillar of the Virgin Islands. With this change, it is envisaged that the services currently provided by the Shipping Registry will not only be deliverable with greater efficiency but will also have a positive impact on the Territory’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The Act establishes the Virgin Islands Shipping and Maritime Authority as a body corporate to replace the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry.
The Authority will assume the role of the current Shipping Registry as the Territory’s maritime regulatory body and continue to administer maritime affairs in accordance with the requirements of the Merchant Shipping Act, 2001, but with greater capacity and discretion in making decisions that would strengthen its corporate culture, facilitate continued growth and promote the development of ship registration and related services in the Territory.
More specifically, the Authority’s functions will include, but will not be limited to, providing ship registration services, maintaining the Register of Ships in the Virgin Islands and providing maritime regulatory services such as documentation and certification services for all ships on the register and all crew serving on those ships. The Authority will also have additional powers to promote the development of the Virgin Islands as an international shipping centre. As a necessary corollary, the Authority will have the power to make fiscal decisions and greater autonomy in matters incidental to its regulatory role.
As regards the Authority’s finances, the Act provides direction on the management of the Authority’s funds, budgeting requirements and financial reporting requirements. It obliges the Authority to prepare annual budgets and work plans for review and approval by the Minister of Finance, followed by their publication by the Authority.
As to the management of the affairs of the Authority, the Act makes provision for this to be vested in a Board of Directors which will be responsible for governance, oversight, and decision-making in the interest of the Authority and stakeholders. The Board is to comprise not less than five or more than seven directors who must satisfy the qualification requirements specified in the Act, including having experience or proven capacity in the maritime or a related field.
Under the new statutory regime, all property currently vested in the Shipping Registry for operational use will be transferred to the Authority.
Overall, the new statutory regime is designed to reinforce the functions of the current Shipping Registry and ensure that the Virgin Islands is strategically positioned to provide modern and effective maritime services.
Having been gazetted since receiving Royal assent on October 16, 2023, the Act is expected to come into force within a relatively short period of time.
For more information, please contact the author, A. Hermia Tench, of O’Neal Webster’s Shipping and Maritime practice at: email@example.com.