MV. Betsy Ross investigated by Office of the Maritime Regulator

MV Betsy Rose, the vessel under investigation by the Office of the Maritime Regulator

The Interim Regulator of the Office of Maritime Regulator (OMR), Charlie Maniel, is appealing to investors not to bring old vessels and use Vanuatu as a dumping site.

The OMR has issued a rule that any imported vessel into Vanuatu must not exceed 10 years old, unlike before when there was no stringent restriction and old vessels were brought in.

Mr. Maniel also appeals to all Ni-Vanuatu and citizens to consult OMR or any marine surveyors to inspect any vessel they are interested in, before buying the vessel.

This appeal was made as an investigation into the registration of MV Betsy Ross is being undertaken

MV Betsy Ross came to Vanuatu after Cyclone Pam in April 2015, delivering goods as part of the relief support to Vanuatu. The vessel was owned by Shane Farquhar, a British national who resides in South Africa.

The vessel moored at the Quarantine Anchorage location when it first arrived, and has anchored there ever since.

In December 2015, the vessel was registered by the owner under the flag of Vanuatu. However, it was not issued any safety certificate and manning certificate as required by the Shipping Act and Regulations. Although it was registered, the vessel did not service the islands but just remained in Port Vila harbour.

As OMR enforces safety requirements, the vessel has thus come to OMR radar for spot check as it berthed in the harbour for quite sometimes. According to OMR investigation, the vessel was sold to a ni-Vanuatu businessman, Mr. Carlo White, sometimes in 2017, through the South African owner’s agent based in Port Vila — a ‘Mr. Davis’ who works at Marine Aerial Survival Services Vanuatu (MASSV).

However, the vessel was not properly transferred by the original owner to the purchaser as required by the Shipping Act for the purpose of issuance of new Certificate of Registration to the new owner.

There were irregularities found on the vessel documents. As such, the vessel was automatically detained because of this violation and OMR continue to investigate further with the new owner and agent who sold the vessel in Vanuatu.

According to the Interim Regulator, “The important thing is to pin down the proper owner of the vessel given that if anything happens to that vessel, the liability is upon the owner of the vessel.

“Hence, OMR and Government can deal with the owner properly.”

An OMR team boarded the vessel last week and conducted a spot check and found out that the vessel needed a lot of work before it can be certified and endorsed by OMR if it intended to operate within Vanuatu waters.

The Regulator also has the power to revoke the registration if the vessel documents remain as they are. If the Regulator take that approach and revoke the registration, the vessel will be “Stateless” and proper enforcement order will be obtained from the court for State to confiscate the vessel.

OMR however is working closely with the new buyer of the vessel, together with the original seller to ensure the vessel complies with the laws of Vanuatu and if possible, towed to a safe place while the paperwork of the vessel is processed by the new owner.

On investigation, the vessel is very old as it was built by the United States army in 1944.

It was used during World War II to carry ammunition and soldiers.

As such, OMR needs to properly survey the vessel before any safety certificate can be issued by the Regulator to the owner of the vessel.

If upon survey the vessel is found to be unseaworthy, OMR have no option but to discuss the possibility, with the new owner of the vessel together with government relevant authorities the options of sinking the vessel or undertake any other alternatives that complies with the laws of Vanuatu.

The vessel is without a captain (after the captain accidentally died in Port Vila), no engineers and crew to man the vessel. Only a security guard was hired to look after the property of the vessel but no marine qualified person to maintain the vessel.

There is a risk if a depression or cyclone pushes it ashore or sinks the vessel while in the harbour.

OMR says it will meet with the Ports and Harbour and Harbour Master, Mr. John Nasak to discuss on what action can be taken to ensure the removal of the vessel from the quarantine anchorage by the owner. This is to avoid any risk if anything happens to the vessel that may affect the harbour and the marine environment.

OMR inspectors, Harbour Master, together with the owner of the vessel will board the vessel today (Saturday) to survey and check the condition of the engine before any attempt to start the engine of the vessel.

“For MV. Betsy Ross, it still has many valuable things inside the vessel that the new owner can sell to recover his money from, given that if inspected by OMR and if the vessel is found to be unsafe because of its age, then the only option is to sink the vessel after selling all the valuable equipment,” concluded Mr. Maniel.

OMR says it will work close with shipowners and the Government through MIPU to improve the safety of this sector, especially the safety of passengers, crews, vessels and call upon cooperation of all shipowners, agents and Masters.

OMR is planning consultations with all shipowners before end of March to raise the importance of safety, role of OMR within the sector and how OMR can work with all stakeholders especially ship owners and agents to improve and strengthen safety and better implement and enforce the Shipping Act and Maritime Sector Regulatory Act 2016.

The OMR is an independent government agency established by an Act of Parliament, which is responsible for the regulation of the maritime sector, including licensing, inspection, survey and registration of Vessel in Vanuatu.

Jonas Cullwick, a former General Manager of VBTC is now a Senior Journalist with the Daily Post. Contact: Cell # 678 5460922

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