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Boat charter bosses cry foul over differences in Covid-19 rules for ferries

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Michael Gladwin’s tour boat business has suffered because of SafeKey requirements for passengers. (File photograph)
Government ferry passengers are not required to have SafeKeys to use the service (File photograph)

Charter boat skippers have questioned why they have to endure stricter Covid-19 precautions than public ferries.

Michael Gladwin, the president of the Tour Boat Owners Association, claimed that charter boats were unfairly targeted by an insistence on SafeKeys if more than 20 passengers were on board – unlike the ferries.

He said the new regulations had damaged charter businesses, which were left dead in the water in 2020 after the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Mr Gladwin added: “We are the only vessels the government are insistent on imposing SafeKey on unless numbers are capped at 20 – they are not even targeting their own vessels.

“There has only been one Covid case that originated on a charter boat, so we are asking why they are so adamant?

“We get the fact that Covid numbers are going up, they are going in the wrong direction, but I am saying if the government implements a regulation it should be fair across the board.

“Private pleasure boats are not subject to SafeKey either.”

New regulations introduced require customers of some businesses to have SafeKeys because of a growing number of coronavirus cases on the island.

The businesses affected include restaurants with indoor dining, bars, gyms and sports clubs, as well as charter boats.

Public ferries require passengers to sanitise their hands before boarding wear masks and some larger ferries are operated with restricted capacity.

Mr Gladwin said that requests to the Government for concessions to help the industry weather the storm had not been granted.

He added the association had appealed for breaks on payroll tax, liquor licensing fees and boat licensing fees.

It also requested a fuel rebate allowance extension and a ban on visiting charter boats.

Mr Gladwin said that the liquor licence fee was reduced by 50 per cent and concessions were given on fuel, but other breaks were not approved.

He added: “The extension on the fuel rebate was extremely helpful to all of us.

“The Government also kept the Marine and Ports fees the same as last year rather than increasing them – each boat has to pay for the amount of passengers they are licensed to carry. There is no moratorium on visiting charter boats.”

Mr Gladwin said: “Last year, we paid all our fees and insurance in full despite being unable to operate. Many of us are hanging on by a thread.

“We do have an ongoing dialogue with the government and hope that more consideration can be given to measures that can help our industry.”

Mr Gladwin is also the owner of the Reef Explorer and said he had lost a lot of business including several large charter trips scheduled for last weekend.

One of the trips would have been his biggest of the summer season, but the SafeKey requirement forced a cancellation.

Nigel Prescott, the owner of charter boat business Tam-Marina, said there were “double standards” at work.

He added: “It is very annoying – the government are putting their ferries under a different category of transportation.

“Pleasure boats don’t have these rules and regulations but licensed boats, who pay all the fees, the larger boats particularly, are severely affected.

“We have fresh air – it’s not recycled. It is an outside environment with open decks.

“Outdoor restaurants and bars don’t have to have SafeKey, why should we?”

The government did not respond to a request for comment.

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Published August 30, 2021 at 7:54 am (Updated August 30, 2021 at 7:46 am)

Boat charter bosses cry foul over differences in Covid-19 rules for ferries

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