New legislation signed regulating water vessels

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 10, No. 34            August 24, 2000

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A new Statutory Instrument (SI), signed by Minister of Tourism, Hon. Mark Espat last week, is designed to improve service and safety for passengers of water vessels in Belize. Being drafted for the past several years, the work on these regulations was recently intensified, partly due to the increase in the cruise ship visits and the recent news that there are more ships on the horizon.

    While safety regulations are currently in place, with the significant rise in tourists to Belize, it was deemed necessary to review standards set. According to Director of Product Development, Anthony Mahler of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), "no monitoring was previously in place for these vessels and the time has come, with the growth of the industry, to begin implementing new standards." The Belize Tourism Board (Local Water Passenger and Watersports Vessels) Regulations, 2000 will establish a regulatory committee of members directly involved in the business to perform this task. Quoting the SI, the committee will consist of nine representatives, namely, three from the Local Water Taxi Association; two nominated by the Board; one from BTIA; one from the local Tour Operators Association; one nominated by the Minister, in his own discretion from suitably qualified persons with adequate knowledge of the tourism industry; and one from the Belize Port Authority. Their functions will include a) receiving, considering and determining applications for licenses under these regulations, b) providing advisory information and other related service to license holders, c) assisting license holders in any matters affecting the discharge of their functions, d) performing any other functions to better carry out the objectives and purposes of these regulations including, but not limited to, defining policy guidelines for the operation of local water passenger vessels and local watersports vessels, e) setting and revising, on a continuous basis, the licensing criteria for operators and f) developing rules and regulations for the training of operators and other similar activities.

    In the SI, local water passenger vessels means cruise tenders, shuttles, sail boats, water taxis, pontoon boats, party boats, tour boats and skiffs which are used by local water passenger vessel providers for cruising purposes within the territorial waters of Belize, who receive payment of any fee or some other form of reward by a passenger. Local watersports vessels are defined as any vessel used by local watersports vessel providers to provide watersports services to the public, who receive payment of a fee or some other form of reward and includes vessels used for board sailing, parasailing, scuba diving, canoeing, rafting, sunfish sailing, paddle boating, water skiing, kayaking, jet skiing and aqua biking.

    Qualifications to be licensed as an operator include being a) a Belizean citizen or permanent resident of Belize with the business of tourism defined as his principal occupation on his permanent residency permit and who has resided in the country for at least five years; or b) an entity which is controlled by a majority of Belizeans or permanent residents of Belize, or a company whose majority shareholding is owned by Belizean citizens or permanent residents. Those qualified may, subject to provisions, apply to the committee for a license to be an operator of a local water passenger vessel or a local watersports vessel. Applicants must be 18 years of age and have one year boating experience, not be convicted of an offence involving dishonesty or any other serious offence for the past three years, and pay a non-refundable application fee of $25.

    The following requirements apply as well. New owners must have a) proof of ownership of the vessel, b) a Belize Port Authority valid certificate of seaworthiness and safety license (captain must be licensed as well by the same) and c) a valid copy of liability insurance. Companies must include a copy of their memorandum and articles of association, and certificate of registration. Also professional details of persons employed or to be employed by the applicant (if any), and the number of Belizean citizens and permanent residents so employed. Existing owners, who have been operating for at least one year before regulations (who do not meet the criteria above), may obtain a license provided they meet all the other licensing criteria specified and submit to the committee a) proof of continuous local water passenger or watersports vessel operation in Belize for at least the previous one year in the form of receipts, evidence of income tax and business tax returns or previous trade license or any other evidence of a similar nature, b) proof that they are competent to conduct the business of local water passenger or watersports vessel operations and c) any other requirements which the committee stipulates as condition precedent to the issuance of the license. Foreign operators may only operate in the territorial waters of Belize under special licenses granted by the committee with approval of the Minister after consultation with persons in the area where the operator will operate.

    Licenses are annual, expire one calendar year after date of issue and will be issued upon payment. In Schedule Three of the SI it states fees for licenses. Reportedly, owners/operators are charged a single license fee for their business, per type of vessel as follows: shuttle - $200, sailboats - $100, water taxis -  $200, pontoon - $100, party boats - $150, tour boats - $150, skiffs - $150, dive shop operators - $300, and cruise ship tenders - $300. Watersports providers operating kayaks, paddle boats, canoes, rafts, wind surfers, jet skis, wave runners, tubes, etc. will be charged $200.

    License holders will be required to display a valid license sticker in a conspicuous place on their vessel and produce the license to authorities within 24 hours of demand. If a license is lost, destroyed or mutilated, at least three months before the date of expiration, a $25 fee for reissuing the license will be charged.

    Safety and service regulations, and more specific definitions of this legislation will be determined by the, as yet, unnamed regulatory committee at their meeting to be held in the near future.
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