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Industries mixed over up to 75% boating fee cuts

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Fishing and tour excursion providers yesterday gave decidedly mixed reactions on the up to 75 percent cuts in boat registration fees tabled in the House of Assembly.

While fishermen hailed the creation of a new category specifically for their industry, and fees that in many instances are just one-quarter of what they had to pay under the previous schedule, tour operators and excursion providers said the reforms “are still very disappointing” - and not just because of the revised charges.

Andoni Lisgaris, the Bahamas Excursion Operators Association’s (BEOA) president, told Tribune Business that in some cases registration fees for boats operating as charters and passenger-carrying tour boats had actually increased compared to the charges imposed in July 2023.

He cited the example of a 36-foot charter vessel, whose combined inspection and registration fees had near-tripled from $260 in December 2022 to $775 a year later and now, under the new legislation tabled in the House of Assembly, will increase again to $925.

The Boat Registration (Amendment) Bill, unveiled by Jobeth Coleby-Davis, minister of transport and energy, contains several wrinkles compared to the version introduced last July as it creates several new boat length categories.

For example, persons bringing in a new boat that is 19 feet or less in length will now pay a first-time registration fee of $700 as opposed to the previous $1,000 - a 30 percent cut. However, the Government has now split the next vessel size category - 20 feet to 39 feet - in two.

This means that while owners of boats between 20-28 feet will enjoy a $900 first-time registration fee reduction, as it drops from $3,000 to $2,100, those in the 29 feet to 39 feet bracket will pay $3,500. That latter figure represents a $500 increase on what they would have paid under the previous structure.

The same applies to annual registration renewal fees, with the 29 feet to 39 feet category now paying $860 as opposed to the previous $700. And Mr Lisgaris said other aspects of the new Bill also appeared to be unduly burdensome for tour and charter boat owners and operators.

He challenged why the new Bill is requiring operators to undertake an annual marine survey when the insurance industry’s requirement is for one to be conducted every five years, and questioned why they are being forced to take an additional examination.

“This 2024 Boat Registration Amendment Bill for commercial operators is totally disappointing,” Mr Lisgaris said. “It was seriously suggested that tour boat providers would receive relief and, sadly, that is not the case. No significant decreases were made, and in most instances registration fees have actually increased.

“Also included in this 2024 amendment is the requirement for an annual marine survey. Unfortunately, this makes matters even worse than before. Most recent and lowest-quoted survey for this [36-foot charter] vessel is $540, so that makes a 36-foot charter vessel at least $1,465 to register annually compared to $260 in 2022.

Insurance companies require a marine survey to be conducted every five years, which is the standard. Why do we need a Port inspection and marine survey to be conducted annually? Marine surveys are primarily conducted to determine the market value of a vessel,” he argued.

“Isn’t the Port Authority’s main concern to make sure that commercial vessels are deemed seaworthy and equipped with lifesaving equipment? Considering the Port does their own inspections, why are operators now being required to undergo an additional examination?

“We can look to vehicle registration for comparison,” Mr Lisgaris added. “According to Road Traffic’s website, the highest category for vehicle registration (based on weight) is $760. These vehicles traverse our roads all day, adding to the wear and tear of the streets. An annual fee of this scale is more understandable given the infrastructure the Government has to maintain for this mode of transport.

“The same, by and large, cannot be said of vessels. Further, these vehicles (again, according to the Government’s website) do not appear to be subject to a roughly $500 per annum inspection fee. This is by no means an attempt to pull down a fellow sector, but more to demonstrate the inequity legitimate boat operators are facing.”

Turning to his concerns about the lack of enforcement and regulation, Mr Lisgaris said: “We’re approaching the third month of 2024 and we still see unregulated vessels conducting business on a daily basis. These are operators who have never, and will likely never, pay any commercial registration fees no matter what the rates are due to a lack of repercussions.

“We have competitors who have blatantly refused to pay the new fees since they were implemented in December 2023 and who are likely still operating. Illegally. Sadly, we see little law enforcement presence on the water after repeatedly making calls and reports to the Port and Defence Force.

“As an example, to my knowledge, Green Cay off Rose Island is still closed to swimmers due to the deadly shark attack. Yet numerous tour vessels take tourists snorkelling and swimming there without any penalty. I understand that law enforcement agencies cannot witness everything, but they must patrol the harbour and other popular tourist sites to make sure charter vessels are compliant and our guests are safe.

“Calls have been made for vessels to have dated registration stickers, a common practice for vessels from other countries, and similar to our vehicles, to make it easier to identify unregistered vessels. Unfortunately, to date, no public dialogue has transpired on this proposal.”

Fishermen, though, were in more buoyant mood after the revised Water Skiing and Motor Boat Control (Amendment) Bill 2024 carved out the sector by providing its own fee schedule separate from pleasure craft users.

Keith Carroll, the National Fisheries Association’s (NFA) president, told Tribune Business that annual registration renewal fees for his vessel, which falls into the 50-foot to 59-foot category, had been slashed by 75 percent from $2,300 to $575. The latter figure, he added, while representing a 187.5 percent jump on the prior $200, was within the magnitude of increase deemed acceptable by the sector.

“It looked like good news for the fishermen,” Mr Carroll added. “I’m happy, and according to the fishermen in the chats it sounds like everyone’s very pleased. I think the way I see the fees, I think the Government took the fishermen’s advice and they did what we wanted. We’re very pleased with it.

“We knew the fees needed an increase but not the way they went about it. They didn’t give one good reason why they did that. I know all the boats are getting registered now. I haven’t registered my own, but I will call the inspector tomorrow [today] and get mine licensed up.

“It’s big for the fishermen. We knew it had to go up. We can live with what it is now. There’s nothing to complain about now. I think that in the future when the Government plans to do anything that affects the fishermen they should meet with us and they wouldn’t have this problem,” Mr Carroll added.

“Consult with the fishermen, call us. They might not agree with what we say, but we cannot go to sleep and wake up tomorrow and something that affects us and nobody has talked to us about it.”

Paul Maillis, the Association’s secretary, told Tribune Business that the fee amendments represent “one less burden upon us in terms of preparing for the upcoming” Nassau grouper season. “From the beginning we’ve been saying we understand some sort of increase was to be expected,” he added. “We’re pleased they’ve created a specific category for commercial fishing vessels...

“It could have come sooner, but later is better than sooner. We’d like to commend them [the Government] and look forward to going to get vessels properly registered in preparation for the grouper season. It’s a battle that we didn’t want to have to fight but, at the end of the day, it’s all about how we correct something that is not working properly and I’m glad we’ve gone ahead with that.”

Comments

Porcupine 1 month, 2 weeks ago

How much time, energy, money and efficiency were wasted in this ill conceived and poorly planned boondoggle. We have no competent leadership. Certainly none that looks out for the nation's people. Sad.

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DiverBelow 1 month, 2 weeks ago

Is this the New Math? Looks more like a Shell Game to me. Shifting the criminal amounts among categories & subcategories is still fraud, particularly in a country so sea bound. I suppose there are nobody who can read the values of new or used boats on the Internet Once again, Reinventing The Wheel! ...How are others managing?

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sheeprunner12 1 month, 2 weeks ago

There should be two categories for payments based on proof provided by the boat owner.

(1) commercial boat owner, be it fisherman or tour operator. The boat is been used to make a living, so pay the higher fees.

(2) recreational boat owner, a person who uses his boat occasionally for personal enjoyment and NOT to earn a living. Those fees should be lower.

Why is there all this hullabaloo about whether your fees are higher if you are a fisherman or a tour boat owner?

No one complains about the license fees for a private car VS a taxicab. Same should apply to sea vessels.

This whole issue has been mishandled by BOTH sides from Day One.

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