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The Impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria

 

Words by Paul Mellor, Senior Associate—Harneys

Harneys weathered the passing of Hurricanes Irma and Maria and we are pleased to advise that our BVI office has now reopened with all teams and practice groups providing client service as before the storms. 

Our lawyers are physically on the ground, permitting quick and comprehensive response to client queries in our usual timely, commercial, and solution-oriented manner.

Now that the immediate threat posed by the storms has passed, attention inevitably must turn to recovery and how best that recovery may be facilitated. We have set out below a summary of some of the pertinent issues.

Insurance

Many business, property, and motor vehicle owners will have the benefit of a policy of insurance against which they may submit a claim for loss and damage incurred as a consequence of the storms. 

While the majority of claims should as a matter of course be processed without the need for legal assistance, our lawyers are available to assist with the claims process and to liaise with the local insurance companies, if required. 

Please ensure that any damage is properly recorded and items in respect of which a claim is to be made are not discarded. Be sure to read the policy carefully and be aware of any exclusions and time limits within which claims must be submitted. 

Yachts

The insurance issues summarised above are as relevant in the context of yachts as they are for other types of assets.

Where existing yachts are damaged beyond repair, many owners will be interested in acquiring new vessels for which there may be a requirement for assistance in relation to financing, ownership structuring, and registration. In the latter case, the Virgin Islands Shipping Registry is operational and is accepting new applications for registration.

Employment and Immigration

Most businesses in the BVI will have been negatively impacted by the storms, at least on a short-term basis and may have a requirement for staff to work flexibly until a sustained improvement in business prospects. 

For some businesses such as those involved in construction, haulage, and vehicle repair, this will no doubt be an exceptionally busy time with a corresponding requirement for additional staff. Such businesses should ensure that they make use of robust employment contracts and have a detailed understanding of those aspects of the Labour Code that are particularly relevant for staff working in such circumstances, including payment of overtime, rest periods, and limitations on hours of work. 

An understanding of the work permit application process will be essential where staff with specialist skills are required to assist with the recovery process and appropriate staff are not available locally. 

The Labour Department has announced that work permit applications for certain workers will be expedited, particularly those involved in the relief effort.  

In relation to existing work permit holders, the Government has announced that there will be a grace period of up to three months for the holders of work permits to regularise their immigration status following the expiry of their work permits. 

This will be of particular help to many of those work permit holders who are temporarily away from the BVI. 

Property Reconstruction

Many homes and other properties in the BVI sustained significant damage. A multitude of home and property owners will have repair and refurbishment of their properties at the forefront of their minds. 

Some property owners will consider this to be a good opportunity to remodel or extend their homes.  Property owners that hold their properties pursuant to a Non-Belongers Land Holding Licence are reminded to review their licence carefully before undertaking such work. 

It would be typical for such licences to be subject to a condition that any alterations to the property (which would result in the property no longer matching the description of the property in the licence) will require the prior consent of the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands. 

Customs Duty

Items that are imported into the BVI typically attract duty at a rate between 5% and 20% depending on the nature of the item in question. 

To facilitate the recovery effort, the Government has announced that Customs duty will be waived in relation to the importation of certain items from 3 October 2017 until 31 December 2017, including:

  • Food;
  • Generators;
  • Clothes and shoes;
  • Building materials;
  • Electrical and plumbing fixtures and materials; and
  • Household furniture and appliances.

Business Development Fund

The Government has announced the establishment of a business development fund whereby businesses will be entitled to apply for loans to assist with their recovery efforts. 

We expect the Government to announce further details of this scheme shortly. 

We are hopeful that this initiative will enable many enterprises to recover and reopen for business.

Banks

The retail banks operating in the BVI have announced customer assistance programmes whereby there is an option to defer loan payments for a fixed period of time. 

Some of these assistance programmes automatically apply but others need to be applied for and we suggest that you contact your bank to ascertain if this is something that is appropriate for you.

For more information on legal or practical matters arising from the impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, including any of the matters identified above, please contact Sheila George, Johann Henry, or your usual Harneys contact.

Photography by Broadsword Communications and Nanny Cay Resort & Marina

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