Tuesday, September 29

Trouble in Paradise: Cruisers Overwhelm USVI

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So many cruising boats have headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands recently because of the COVID-19 pandemic that they have caused worries about overloading the finite resources on the islands there.

At this time of year, there usually about 270 boats moored or anchored in the USVI – St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix, and Water Island. Now there are about 600.

The problem is that many ports have closed across the Caribbean to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The USVI, subject to U.S. laws, at first welcomed cruisers. On March 27, Gov. Albert Bryan, Jr., said the islands welcomed visitors to a “safe haven under U.S. Flag protection at this grave time.”

But The New York Times reports that Marvin A. Blyden, leader of the territory senate, is worried that the influx of cruisers now poses a threat to residents. “We don’t have the resources to deal with the large influx,” he said. “Yes, we’re an American system. Yes, we should look to help those in need. But at the same time we must protect our borders and we must protect our people.”

One problem is lack of medical resources. St. Thomas and St. Croix only have two hospitals and 20 intensive care beds. Another is waste disposal. St. John’s, for example, does not have pump-out stations. During the pandemic, the islands’ beaches are closed, and mariners are supposed to stay on their boats except to get essentials.

Then there’s the garbage-disposal problem. Trash bags recently have washed up on the island’s pristine beaches. One St. John resident has come up with a creative solution. In normal times, Nate Fletcher runs his Blue Line Yacht Charter business, but he hasn’t had a guest in more than a month. So Fletcher now goes around the harbor on his 37-foot Midnight Express speedboat, powered by three 300-hp outboards, collecting trash for $5 a bag.

The governor’s office is now discouraging more cruisers from arriving. If they have to come, one official says, they should go to St. Croix since the bays at St. Thomas and St. John are already full.

Another problem is on the horizon. Hurricane season starts in June, and many boat insurance policies say the vessels have to be out of the Caribbean by then. Some cruisers have organized Homeward Bound Flotillas that leave the islands every Sunday. Read more:




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