US Virgin Islands to ease entry requirements for cruise ships

As cases aboard cruise ships continue to decline, authorities in the U.S. Virgin Islands plan to ease entry requirements for cruise liners to enter the region and visit the famous islands of St. John and St. Thomas.

Although cruise ships accounted for tens of thousands of passengers visiting the islands daily before the pandemic, the strict regulations that have been put in place, coupled with fewer guests on board, have seriously hurt the local economy. Something the local government now wants to fix.

Maximum 3% infection rate

Several ships have been forced to cancel their calls to the US Virgin Islands in recent months due to strict entry requirements put in place by local authorities. In January alone, the protocols caused cancellations for 13 cruise ships.

As COVID-19 cases have plummeted in recent weeks and the Omicron variant is apparently far less dangerous than expected, cruise lines will have less and less stringent requirements to deal with, according to a local report.

Cruise ships docked in St. Thomas (Photo credit: Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock)

“The Department of Health, Governor’s Office, Port Authority VI, and WICO are finalizing an updated Memorandum of Understanding to present to cruise lines outlining local requirements,” said Anthony Ottley, President and CEO of West Indian Company Limited.

“In this updated memorandum of understanding, cruise ships will be allowed to dock and disembark passengers if there is a maximum infection rate of 3% among passengers and crew. Cruise lines were asking for a 4% infection rate cap for the entire ship, and some destinations are granting those requests,” Ottley Suite.

With the change in regulations, the West Indian Company Limited (WICO) hopes to attract more cruise ships to the shores of the US Virgin Islands. However, this will likely not yet be a return to pre-COVID tourist numbers.

Number of passengers behind

Ships that dock in the US Virgin Islands do not arrive full. Something that had a significant impact on the bottom line of the West Indian Company Limited. The company posted a net loss of over $3 million through the end of August 2021.

Carnival Sunshine in St. Thomas
Carnival Sunshine in St. Thomas (Photo credit: eskystudio / Shutterstock)

Since cruise ships began sailing in the summer of last year, ships have arrived on the islands with numbers as low as 28% of total capacity, with an average number of around 40-50 % of total capacity.

With the three berths that WICO operates in the US Virgin Islands and an average total passenger capacity of 3,000 on most cruise ships, society and the local economy are missing 4,500 passengers per day.

Anthony Ottley: “Right now we’re trying to get the percentages because one of the challenges we have here at WICO is that we’re a three-berth facility. … When we’re used to having ships, before the pandemic, at 90% or 95% capacity, we can now have a loaded dock, but when we have a loaded dock with ships that are only at 40% capacity, we are in fact, it does not not going so well.

Despite the upcoming relaxation of the maximum infection rate on ships, it could take until 2023 or 2024 before the local economy recovers. As Asian and Australian markets remain closed, companies are moving more ships to the Caribbean. Something that could prove attractive for ports like the US Virgin Islands looking to recover.

Cruise Ships in St. Thomas, USVI