The Harbors and Merchant Shipping Act was amended two months ago in May. The new rules and regulations posted in this new act impose stiffer fines and demand higher standards from boat owners and captains.
The Amended Act touches several key and sensitive issues; issues that once neglected may result in stiff fines. Among the changes, boat registration, captain licensing, accidents, sensitivity to the environment and foreign vessels are highlighted.
Earl Valerio of the Belize Port Authority states that between 2004 and 2007 there was a drastic increase in the number of water vessels in the country. Valerio commented that there are approximately 3,000 vessels traveling in the waters within our country. However, not all of these modes of water transportation are registered. According to Natalie Tucker, prosecutor for the Belize Port Authority, registering of all vessels enhances the Port’s knowledge of how many vessels are traveling our Caribbean waters and what types of vessels they are.
Probably one of the most drastic amendments in the new guidelines is the one that stipulates that all owners and operators of vessels bigger than a paddling dory must have a captain’s license and seaworthiness certificate from the Port Authority. “I want them to understand that we are serious about this and to all the mariners out there and all the boat captains and owners who have not yet re-registered and or re-licensed their boats to do so as early as possible and also to those captains who are out there navigating the waters without a valid masters or captain license to do so as soon as possible,” stated Valerio. Valerio also commented that every person with the intention of driving a vessel must get a license. For veteran boat captains, those who have never applied or received a captain’s license must do so now. “They have to take the test and do everything that everybody else does. It’s just that maybe they’ll be able to get their license faster because when it comes to the practical part, they know exactly what they are doing.”
A third point to bear in mind is that every boat master must report any collision or grounding of his vessel to the proper authorities. “If they fail to do this then on summary conviction they are liable to a fine of $15,000,” said Tucker.
Tucker continued, “Any master who by negligence, want of skill or any other reason causes damage to the environment or loss of use of the environment shall be liable upon summary conviction to a fine of $25,000 or three times the assessed damage. Also, any master who by negligence or want of skill causes loss of life is also under summary conviction liable to a fine of $25,000 up to $50,000.”
Foreign vessels that have been granted permission to travel in Belizean waters must know that the new rules and the fines also apply to them.
Penalties from operating an unregistered boat may include a $1,000 fine which also applies for any person driving a water vessel without a proper captain’s license.
All seaworthiness certificates and captain licenses expire on December 31st of each year. According to Port Authority officials, following the information campaign, enforcement of the new rules will begin countrywide. The law has other provisions, and if you want to know more, you can contact the Belize Port Authority. Mariners without a captain’s license can visit the Port Authority’s office at the corner of North Front and Pickstock Streets for testing on Wednesdays and Thursdays. For more information or to place any reports please call 223-0714 or 223-0716.