Maritime Affairs says tug, barge going back to Bahamas, not BVI

~ Bahamian authority agreed detention was ‘legal and just’ ~

PHILIPSBURG—Acting Section Head Maritime Affairs, Claudius Carty, clarified Thursday the Bahamas-flagged tug Titan and barge Mickey T will not be going to the British Virgin Islands (BVI) as the only way detention of the vessels can be lifted is if they are being towed back to the Bahamas as per directions given by the Bahamian Maritime Authorities.

A tug that will tow the vessels back to the Bahamas is expected to arrive today. The tug and barge were relocated outside the Simpson Bay Lagoon because the arriving tug will not be able to enter the Lagoon due to the draft restriction.

Carty issued a response to the October 26 letter from Marine Management and Consulting (MMC) President Jeff Boyd saying it was “very sad to see the facts being twisted in order to try and justify the willful wrong doing of an operator.”

“At no point did Maritime Affairs Inspectors or the Coast Guard tell the vessels they had to leave,” he said. “The vessels were relocated due to the fact that we were constantly being called to address the fact that crew were seen operating the equipment on the barge (crane). The owner of the vessels has been approaching several other operators on the island trying to secure a way to remain on the island and operate the vessels which is not an option.”

According to Carty it also came to light from immigration authorities that the vessels had not finalized their clear in procedures after almost a week, but which was then rectified.

“The accusation levied by the author of the article states that we started enforcing Maritime Laws that were being done prior to the storm which is totally untrue as we on a regular basis conduct Port State Control Inspections in accordance with our guidelines laid down by the Caribbean Memorandum of Understanding (CMOU) where we are required to conduct inspections on a minimum 15 per cent of all foreign vessels entering our ports (St. Maarten),” added Carty. “Maritime Affairs is all for getting the environment cleaned but with unseaworthy/unsafe equipment it brings more concerns than solutions.”

Carty noted the BVI was contacted and the government there made it clear that they too have serious problems but are not going to allow undocumented equipment into its waters either.

“The instruction from the Bahamian authorities was to have the vessel towed back to the Bahamas totally unmanned. Maritime Affairs tried to assist in every way possible to help and resolve the matter by brainstorming and communicating with the Bahamian authorities. But for the record let it be known that strict instructions were given by the Bahamian authorities not to allow the vessels to operate under the present conditions and if we did all responsibility would be for the government of St. Maarten.

“It became very clear that the tug in question is a harbor vessel and could never be certified as an ocean going tug which immediately closed that door,” Carty continued. “As for the barge the Bahamian authorities were prepared to certify the barge but according to them the owner was unable to supply them with all the required documents needed to continue the process.

“On Friday, October 13, 2017, two Port State Control Officers from the Maritime Affairs office visited the tug Titan and barge Mickey T to conduct a Port State Control (PSC) inspection in order to verify their compliance. Unfortunately the captain was unable to supply the officers with any valid certificates, a valid license for himself and no Mate was designated to the vessel. These deficiencies, individually or simultaneously are reasons for immediate detention. Contact was made with the Bahamian authorities and they confirmed the vessels were not in any way certified to leave Bahamian waters. They agreed with the detention deeming it to be lawful and just.”

A subsequent letter sent to Maritime Affairs from Acting Port Controller Captain Cyril Roker from Nassau in the Bahamas stated: “We are in full agreement that the vessel should not be allowed to operate outside of her specified trading area and we would not be opposed to a detention of the said vessel. We have received a proposition from the owners that the vessel be allowed to be towed back to the Bahamas and not to conduct any further international voyages until she is properly certified for such voyages and all deficiencies have been rectified.”

Maritime Affairs explained when outside the country of registry (flag state) all commercial vessels are required to have statutory certificates in accordance with the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) guidelines for vessels undertaking international voyages. In this specific case the Bahamas is a signatory to the CMOU and fully aware of the requirements.

The government insists it did not stop any salvage work from taking place and has granted three permits this week to other companies to proceed. The vessel from St. Kitts that was turned away has now obtained its necessary compliance papers and is on its way back to St. Maarten to work, government also noted.

Source: The Daily Herald