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VIPA Executive Director Clarifies Misinformation Regarding Collection of Ships Dues at WICO Port

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Carlton Dowe
Carlton Dowe, VIPA Executive Director

Virgin Islands Port Authority Executive Director Carlton Dowe wishes to correct the gross misrepresentations made by West Indian Company Limited Board Chairman Jason Charles at the recent WICO board meeting. At the meeting, Charles stated that VIPA had collected $130 million since 2004 that was to be used for dredging the Charlotte Amalie Harbor. VIPA Executive Director Dowe explained, “This is a gross and intentional  misrepresentation by Chairman Charles. The record is very clear that VIPA has not collected any fees from cruise ship companies for dredging.”

Dowe said that in accordance with the law, VIPA has published a marine tariff that outlines the fees charged to vessels that use the public piers and harbors in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Currently VIPA’s rate schedule includes two fees that are charged to cruise lines: port dues and a wharfage fee. Port dues are charged to all cruise ships entering the harbor, and wharfage is charged to ships that berth at VIPA’s docks. WICO charges a wharfage fee to ships berth at its Havensight dock and possibly other fees.

The fees charged by VIPA to the cruise lines are the revenues used to operate VIPA’s marine division. These fees are necessary to help maintain reasonable cost of operation at all marine facilities in the USVI. They also fund the harbor pilots and other VIPA employees who are 
responsible for bringing the cruise ships to the WICO dock and all other docks, and to purchase and maintain the harbor pilot boats.

VIPA has never established a segregated dredging fee, said Dowe.  When dredging was necessary, VIPA used its operating revenue or received 
contributions from the Government of the Virgin Islands to fund the costs. Dowe said, “As Chairman of the WICO board of directors, Mr. Charles should be well aware of this process. I am certain his WICO administrative staff knows the process and were available to inform him.”

VIPA initiated a meeting with WICO several months ago to collaborate on a strategy to finance the Charlotte Amalie Harbor dredging project. Dowe said that it was a surprise that WICO’s chairman would use that gesture as cause to criticize VIPA for carrying out its statutory responsibility. He said, “The dredging of the harbor at a reasonable cost is a benefit to WICO’s treasury and the USVI economy. This cannot just be conversation between VIPA and WICO, it must extend to the cruise lines.”

Dowe further clarified how ship dues are collected from cruise lines that berth at the WICO Dock. “WICO does not give any money to the Port Authority. In the past, when WICO operated as a ship’s agent for the cruise ship companies, it collected all the VIPA-invoiced fees from the cruise lines and remitted a portion of those fees to VIPA as required by law. However, this has long since ceased since WICO is no longer a ship’s agent. VIPA now invoices and collects its fees directly from the cruise lines, including those that berth at WICO’s dock.”

The mandates of WICO and VIPA are vastly different, and Dowe said that the public often misunderstands the responsibilities of the two agencies. “WICO is not a Port Authority. WICO is an entity that manages a single pier located inside the Charlotte Amalie Harbor. The Virgin Islands Port Authority, by statute, manages all the harbors of the USVI, the public docks and wharves. WICO does not pay any fees to VIPA. Fees are charged directly to the cruise ships that enter the USVI’s harbors.”

WICO and VIPA submitted a joint application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the WICO dock to a depth of -36 feet. While the USACE has indicated that it found -36 feet sufficient to accommodate the ships that will berth at WICO, the application is still pending final approval. The Bryan/Roach administration prioritized the dredging, and the V.I. Public Finance Authority has identified $17 million to fund it. Dowe said the $17 million is sufficient to dredge the Charlotte Amalie Harbor to -36 feet.However, WICO has stated that cruise ships that berth at the WICO dock require a depth of -40 feet, which will cost an additional $8 million.

VIPA is prepared to dredge the Charlotte Amalie Harbor and is not opposed to dredging up to -40 feet. However, the needed discussion is to determine how the additional cost of $8 million will be provided to accommodate WICO’s request. “It was never VIPA’s intention to make this a public spectacle. However, misinformation cannot go unabated. VIPA intends to amicably resolve this issue in a manner that will benefit both entities and ultimately best serve the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands.” Dowe said.