Coast Guard Takes 56 Dominicans Back Home After Illegal Voyage

SAN JUAN — The Coast Guard returned 56 nationals to the Dominican Republic Saturday, following the interdiction of an illegal voyage in Mona Passage waters near Puerto Rico.

The interdiction is the result of ongoing local and federal multi-agency efforts in support of the Caribbean Border Interagency Group CBIG.

“This case was a very close call” said Capt. José E. Díaz, Coast Guard Sector San Juan commander.  “The interdicted vessel was in extremely poor condition, grossly overloaded and highly unstable.  Fortunately, the quick response of all Coast Guard units saved the persons in this voyage and averted a tragic outcome. We remain gravely concerned for the safety of people embarking on illegal voyages and strongly caution they not take to the sea.  Their lives will be in danger.”

Coast Guard Cutter Heriberto Hernandez interdicted a 30-foot makeshift boat Friday night, initially detected by the aircrew of a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft, approximately 8 nautical miles southeast of Mona Island, Puerto Rico. Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen launched an MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter to provide air coverage and rescue support due to a very high probability that the vessel could capsize. Following the interdiction, the crew of the cutter Heriberto Hernandez safely embarked all the passengers from the makeshift boat.

Since Oct. 1, 2021 to May 31, 2022, the Coast Guard has carried out 64 illegal voyage interdictions in Mona Passage and Caribbean waters near Puerto Rico.   Interdicted during this period, are 1,706 non-U.S. citizens comprised mostly of Dominican Republic and Haitian nationals (1,235 Dominicans, 370 Haitians, 01 Cuban, 1 Ecuadorian, 52 Venezuelan, 12 Uzbek, 35 Unknown)”.

  • 617 Dominican, 83 Haitians, 7 Brazilian in Fiscal Year 2021 (Total migrants = 707)
  • 1,095 Dominican, 11 Haitians, 3 Venezuelan, 13 Unknown in Fiscal Year 2020 (Total migrants= 1,122)
  • 1,027 Dominican, 10 Haitians, 3 Brazilian, 1 Cuban in Fiscal Year 2019 (Total migrants = 1,041)

Family members in the United States inquiring about possible family members interdicted at sea, please contact your local U.S. representative. Relatives located outside the United States please contact your local U.S. Embassy.

CBIG was formally created to unify efforts of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico Police Joint Forces of Rapid Action, in their common goal of securing the borders of Puerto Rico against illegal migrant and drug smuggling.

Finance Is Distributing 8,000+ Income Tax Refunds For 2020 Tax Returns

CHRISTIANSTED — During the weekly Government House briefing this afternoon, Communications Director Richard Motta Jr. announced that Virgin Islanders who filed their 2020 tax returns on time and did not have any issues with their returns have begun receiving their tax refunds for that tax year.

According to Director Motta, 5,152 checks going out last week and another are 5,513 scheduled for issuance later this week, with most of those checks – 8,637 – being for refunds owed for tax year 2020. The latest distribution of refunds totals $25 million.

“This latest round of payments brings the Bryan-Roach Administration closer to its goal of paying refunds owed to tax filers in the same year they file their returns – something that has not been accomplished in the past,” he said. 

GVI Fellows Program

Director Motta also reminded the community that the deadline to apply for the GVI Financial Fellows’ program was extended to July 15.

The GVI Financial Fellows’ program is a two-year paid internship open to Virgin Islanders with a bachelor’s degree or higher in project management, economics, business administration, construction management, accounting, engineering, finance, and more can work for two years on 6-month rotations within the Government of the Virgin Island’s financial and project management agencies, including the Office of Management and Budget, the Department of Finance, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and Office of Disaster Recovery.

Those interested in applying for the program can get more information and sign up at dopusvi.org.

Administrators’ offices

As some agencies and departments of the Government of the Virgin Islands still are impacted by COVID-19, Director Motta said that residents having trouble contacting those offices directly can get assistance by contacting the Office of the Administrator on each island.

“Even as we move to treat COVID-19 as an endemic, and although—knock on wood—the virus’ impact on our community is less severe than in the past, there are still real-world impacts, mainly the disruption of regular operation to many of our government agencies and offices,” Director Motta said.

For assistance, residents can contact:

  • Administrator Sammuel Sanes on St. Croix, at 340-773-1404.
  • Administrator Avery Lewis on St. Thomas and Water Island at 340-774-0001.
  • Administrator Shikima Jones-Sprauve on St. John at 340-474-5762.  

COVID-19 cases as of June 21

  • 7.67% seven-day positivity rate
  • Currently tracking 184 active cases (134 STX; 49 STT; 1 STJ)
  • 435,007 tested
  • 20,669 tested positive
  • 414,338 tested negative
  • 118 COVID-19-related fatalities
  • There are 3 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, with none on a ventilator, at Luis Hospital on St. Croix.
  • There is 1 COVID-19 patient hospitalized, not on a ventilator, at Schneider Regional Medical Center on St. Thomas. 

Pediatric Vaccinations Approved

Territorial Epidemiologist Dr. Esther Ellis announced during Tuesday’s briefing that COVID-19 vaccines have  been approved for children as young as 6 months.

For children 6 months to 4 years old, the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine has been authorized as a three-dose primary series, and for children ages 5-17, the vaccine continues to be authorized as a two-dose primary series. The Moderna vaccine also is authorized for children ages 6 months to 5 years old as a two-dose primary series.

“As of today, anyone 6 months or older can now get vaccinated, which is very exciting news,” Dr. Ellis said.

Pediatric vaccines are available:

St. Croix – At the CVC at the Charles Harwood Complex from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays.

St. Thomas – At the Maternal and Child Health Clinic from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays and Fridays.

St. John – At the Port Authority gravel lot from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesdays.

Residents are reminded to bring an ID for the parent or guardian, as well as the child’s ID and a copy of the birth certificate. Call 340-777-8227 for an appointment or schedule online at www.covind19usvi.com/vaccines.

More COVID-19 Information

Anyone who thinks they may have contracted COVID-19 can call the Epidemiology hotline at 340-712-6299 (STX) or 340-776-1519 (STT-STJ). For more information, visit covid19usvi.com.

For information about the COVID-19 vaccines or to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated, call the VITEMA hotline Mondays-Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 340-777-VACS (8227).

Home testing

Positive test results from a home COVID-19 test should be confirmed, and confirmation is absolutely necessary if medical therapeutic treatment with an oral antiviral or monoclonal antibodies is to be prescribed.

Confirmation testing can be arranged by calling the COVID-19 hotline at 340-712-6299 on St. Croix or 340-776-1519 on St. Thomas. The hotline is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, and testing appointments can be made online at http://www.Covid19USVI.com/testing

Free Vaccinations

The Community Vaccination Center (CVC) at Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and on Wednesdays on St. John at the V.I. Port Authority gravel lot.

Free vaccinations at the CVC at the Charles Harwood Complex on St. Croix are available by appointment, which can be made by calling 340-777-8227 or by going to http://www.covid19usvi.com/vaccines. Walk-ins also are available.

Finance Is Distributing 8,000+ Income Tax Refunds For 2020 Tax Returns

Man Who Used Credit Card Info From Dark Web To Buy $21K In Jewelry Arrested @ Airport

CHARLOTTE AMALIE An Atlanta man who used a platinum credit card he bought on the Dark Web for $15 to buy nearly $21,000 in watches and jewelry on Main Street appeared in federal court on illegal use of a credit card charges.

Demonn Chadwick Jenkins II, 27, of Georgia, heard that he was charged with fraudulent use of credit card information from U.S. Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller following his arrest on June 17, 2022, U.S. Attorney Delia L. Smith said. Jenkins was ordered released upon the posting of a $7,500.00 cash bond.

According to court documents, on June 16, 2022, Jenkins used a Capital One Platinum Mastercard bearing another individual’s name to purchase a diamond necklace for $9,990.00 and a Rolex watch for $10,800.00 at a jewelry store located on Main Street, St. Thomas.

On June 17, 2022, Jenkins was encountered by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers at the Cyril E. King Airport after he failed to declare the jewelry and pay the required duty tax. He was later identified as the purchaser of the jewelry using footage taken from the jewelry store’s security cameras.

Jenkins later admitted that he purchased the Mastercard on the Dark Web for approximately $15.00.

If convicted, Jenkins faces a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
This case is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations and the United
States Postal Inspection Service.

United States Attorney Smith reminds the public that a criminal complaint is merely a formal charging document and is not evidence of guilt.
Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in a court of law.

Man Who Used Credit Card Info From Dark Web To Buy K In Jewelry Arrested @ Airport

Legislature Welcomes The Public To View Its Operations With New COVID-19 Protocols

CHARLOTTE AMALIE — Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory said that the Legislature of the Virgin Islands re-opened to the public effective on Monday, June 20, 2022.

This change is announced as part of the Legislature’s updated COVID-19 protocols to align with the endemicity stage of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The updated protocols includes the following updates:

• All legislative buildings will re-open to the public, subject to admission requirements.

• All public galleries territory-wide will also re-open to the public for in-person observation of meetings and Legislative Sessions. All seating is subject to the Fire Marshall’s established capacity limit.

• Visitors will still be required to complete an electronic sign-in, answer all COVID-19 symptom questions in the negative and wear masks in shared spaces while on the premises.

The Legislature urges all residents to take all precautionary measures as the territory, and the world continues to navigate the COVID-19 endemic.

VING Graduates 2 Candidates From Sergeant Major Academy

EL PASO, Texas — Two Virgin Islands National Guardsmen Master Sgts. Mizelle Calixte and Louin Chung graduated from the Sergeants Major Academy in Texas, June 17, 2022.

The Army’s premiere enlisted military educational institute, the NCO Leadership Center of Excellence and Sergeants Major Academy, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. The SMA prepares master sergeants and sergeants majors to elevate from a tactical level of thinking to an operational and strategic perspective.

“I am extremely proud of both Master Sgts. Calixte and Chung,” said Maj. Gen. Kodjo Knox-Limbacker, the adjutant general. “They, along with their classmates from other military services and foreign countries exceeded the standards over the past year by completing the ultimate Non-Commissioned Officer leadership education course. Their leadership will be leveraged to advise and shape strategic decisions that ensure our NCO Corps is ready to fight and win in a modern more complex battlespace foreseen in the future.”

VING Graduates 2 Candidates From Sergeant Major Academy
All Virgin Islands National Guard officers in attendance at El Paso, Texas

Soldiers in SMA prepare for leadership positions in joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational organizations. This course combines tools to develop reasoning and meet the challenges of combat operations.

The SMA provides the Army with agile, adaptive senior enlisted leaders of character, competence, and commitment to be influential leaders grounded in Army and Joint doctrine.

The Virgin Islands National Guard continues to be ready, relevant, and responsive in its efforts to provide trained and professional troops to meet the demands of the Armed Forces.

NEED HEALTH INSURANCE?

LEARN MORE BY JOINING THE FREE ZOOM WEBINAR WEDNESDAY AT 1PM WEDNESDAY JUNE 22

REGISTER NOW: vipca.org/insurance

In February 2022, health insurance coverage was extended to shore-based active members of Virgin Islands Professional Charter Association (VIPCA). This health insurance program is underwritten by CIGNA and managed by the insurance specialist at Gowrie Group. To access this insurance plan you can join VIPCA with a “Personal Membership” if you work for a Virgin Islands based-business that serves or services marine clients, if you are a marine supplier, a vessel owner, or a vessel manager with affiliation with VIPCA.

Man Caught At JFK Project With Loaded 9mm Handgun Was On Probation For Illegal Gun Possession

CHRISTIANSTED — A Frederiksted man on probation for illegal gun possession was caught walking around the JFK project in Richmond with a loaded 9 mm handgun in his waistband, authorities said.

Steadroy James, 32, of Estate Grove Place, was arrested on Tuesday and charged with carrying of a firearm openly or concealed and possession or sale of ammunition, the Virgin Islands Police Department said.

According to the probable cause fact sheet, officers assigned to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) of St. Croix heard a call come through the 911 Emergency Call Center about a man in blue jeans and a white t-shirt carrying a gun near Building No. 11 of John F. Kennedy Terrace.

Man Caught At JFK Project With Loaded 9mm Handgun Was On Probation For Illegal Gun Possession
VIPD mugshot of Steadroy James, 32, of Lorraine Village Apartments.

Task Force Officer Moses President observed a man fitting that description walking across the JFK parking lot from west to east towards Building No. 10 carrying “a baby in his arms,” according to the sworn police affidavit.

Officers watched as the suspect, later identified as James, walked into an unknown apartment and walked out a few seconds later. Two officers approached the male individual in the archway of the building and tried to speak to him, but he ran away towards the rear of the building.

The two officers shouted at James to stop, but he kept running while holding onto the front waistline of his pants and looking back over his shoulder at the police in pursuit of him, according to Superior Court documents.

“James’ right slipper came off and he tripped and fell,” the probable cause fact sheet states. The two officers then knelt on the ground and asked the suspect to place his hands behind his back, which he did, and one officer placed handcuffs on him.

A search of the suspect by Task Force Officer President revealed that James had Springfield Armory XD-9 handgun in his front waistline inside a black holster, according to the sworn police affidavit.

“There were eighteen 9mm rounds of ammunition recovered from the firearm: 17 in the magazine and one in the chamber,” the probable cause fact sheet states. “A check of the Virgin Islands Firearm Registry revealed that Steadroy James does not have a license to possess a firearm within the Virgin Islands.”

Bail for James was set at $50,000. Unable to post bail, he was remanded to the custody of the Virgin Islands Bureau of Corrections pending further court action.

People reading this Virgin Islands Free Press news article on social media this Juneteenth national holiday were incredulous at the optics of it.

“Probation? Who does he know in the court?” Bristol Born Beals asked on Facebook.

All individuals listed as arrested or charged with a crime in this report are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

Bayside Walking Tour To Feature DPNR Park Ranger John Farchette

GREEN CAY — Commissioner Jean-Pierre L. Oriol of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources said that the Division of Coastal Zone Management will host a Bayside Walking Tour on Friday, June 24th at Chenay Bay -West (Tamarind Reef entrance) from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. 

The walking tour will be led by Park Ranger John Farchette. It is an opportunity to learn about the St. Croix East End Marine Park’s cultural resources, habitats and the extraordinary organisms that call the park home.

Participants will be guided along the shoreline to experience mangroves, seagrass beds, sea and shorebird habitats, and sea turtle nesting beaches. Participants are asked to wear sturdy shoes, a hat and sunscreen if needed.  

This is a free educational event, held quarterly, and suitable for all ages and experience levels. RSVP is mandatory. For program inquiries and reservations please email East End Marine Park Outreach Coordinator Kelcie Troutman at kelcie.troutman@dpnr.vi.gov  or at 340-718-3367. 

Curacao Sets Talks With U.S.-Brazilian Consortium to Run Island’s Oil Refinery

WILLEMSTAD Curacao will begin negotiations with a seven-company consortium to take over management of the Caribbean island’s oil refinery and storage terminal, state-owned Refineria di Kòrsou (RdK) said on Sunday.

Curacao’s 330,000-barrel per day Isla refinery was idled in 2018 amid a payment dispute between then-operator Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and U.S. oil company ConocoPhillips.

PDVSA’s lease expired at the end of 2019 and attempts by the island’s government have continued after several companies dropped out.

RdK said Caribbean Petroleum Refinery, which it identified as a group of six U.S. and one Brazilian company, was selected from among three finalists to manage and run the facilities.

“No later than September 1st, 2022 an agreement should be reached and immediately after begin with the start-up of operations,” RdK said in Sunday’s statement.

Caribbean Petroleum Refinery would employ more than 800 people and converted the facility to run on natural gas, RdK said. The oil-storage terminal at Bullenbaai “will be put into operation immediately,” it added.

RdK did not identify the seven companies and did not immediately reply to a request for the names of the seven. The bidder “is committed towards investing in sport development and schools on the island,” it said.

Officials from several companies had visited the Willemstad refinery and affiliated oil storage terminal in Bullenbaai, RdK has said. A year ago, the refinery said it reached an agreement with CORC B.V. to operate the plant and the oil terminal, but the pact fell apart over financial terms.

Tentative deals with Swiss/British conglomerate Klesch Group and U.K.-based oil firm SPS Drilling E&P to operate the refinery and lease a portion of the 15-million-barrel terminal respectively also ended over disagreements about terms and fees.

—REUTERS

Reporting by Gary McWilliams and Luc Cohen; Editing by Rashmi Aich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Curacao Sets Talks With U.S.-Brazilian Consortium to Run Island's Oil Refinery

UVI Board Approves New BS Degrees and Revised Vaccination Policy for Students

CHARLOTTE AMALIE In the regular session of its quarterly meeting on Saturday, the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees re-elected Henry Smock to serve as chairman and Oran Roebuck as vice-chairperson. 

“I thank all of the Trustees for their faith in myself and Trustee Roebuck. We have a lot on our plate, both today and coming up. I do appreciate the confidence,” Board Chair Henry Smock said.  

At Saturday’s meeting held via Zoom, the Board unanimously voted to establish a Bachelor of Science Degree Program in Aquaponics and a Bachelor of Science Degree Program in Horticulture.  

The Bachelor of Science Degree Program in Horticulture is designed to provide students interested in horticulture with the requisite knowledge to support their interests and career goals. Horticulture is a growing field of employment with a 14 percent job increase in 2022. Students will be required to complete 120 credit hours plus two credits of physical education, including general education coursework. Fifty-five credit hours in required horticulture courses, including plant pathology, general horticulture, and tropical horticulture, and eight credits in elective horticulture courses, including tropical agroecology, forest and nursery management and special topics in agriculture research, and entomology are needed.  

Aquaponics is an emerging and evolving industry with an estimated market of $1.5 billion in 2022. The Bachelor of Science Degree Program in Aquaponics is designed to provide students with in-depth knowledge and understanding across different disciplines to support their interests and career goals. The students will be required to complete 120 credit hours plus two credits of physical education, including general education coursework. Also needed are 50 credit hours in required aquaponics

courses, including aquaculture production, aquaculture techniques, and hydroponics and aquaponics, and nine credits in elective aquaponics courses, including introduction to biotechnology, agricultural regulations, and principles of agricultural business. 

The Board also voted unanimously to approve a new academic degree major in Dance, Music Performance, and Theatre. The new academic major is a performance-based degree aimed at creating skilled performers and technicians who will be critical to the overall success of artistic endeavors in the territory and beyond. Students will complete 48 hours of general education coursework to allow for more performance-based courses within the majors. 

At the meeting, the Board approved a modification of the policy for admitting international students whose primary language is not English. The modification allows for a mid-tier threshold for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores for non-English speaking students and requires students to be enrolled in fundamental English skills courses while concurrently enrolled in existing courses for English as a Second Language (ESL) predicated on the students’ TOEFL scores, placement scores and advising by the Center for Student Success. This policy modification will not affect local students or students attending UVI through partnerships with other Eastern Caribbean countries. 

While in Executive Session, the Board approved a revised vaccination policy that permits a testing protocol to substitute for the vaccination requirement for unvaccinated students. In making this decision the Board considered improving health conditions in the territory and the transition from a pandemic to an endemic phase of COVID-19.

With the changes to the policy, unvaccinated students can attend in-person classes and participate in other campus-based activities. However, to live in the residence halls students still must be vaccinated. Unvaccinated students who desire to attend in-person classes will have to submit to testing on a periodic basis, the regularity of the test will be determined based on an agreement between the UVI Administration and the Department of Health. It is anticipated that the testing will be twice a month initially but will be reduced to monthly as conditions continue to improve.  

This testing exception does not apply to employees, though they are encouraged to be tested as appropriate. In addition to vaccinations and testing, all students and employees are encouraged to continue to take precautions and utilize masks, social distancing, and sanitation measures. 

The Board also approved a new policy for awarding posthumous degrees created to establish the minimum standard criteria and procedures under which posthumous and memoriam degrees may be recommended to the President and the UVI Board. The policy is intended for students who pass away before completing all the requirements for their degree and to recognize their academic achievements or connection to the University. 

During the President’s Report, UVI President David Hall highlighted the achievements of UVI students and faculty as well as various University initiatives. As is customary during the Board meetings, Hall presented the President’s Appreciation Award in recognition of the excellence and commitment of those UVI employees or units that have performed exceptionally within the last quarter.

This quarter’s award was presented to the Commencement Committees, under the leadership of Nereida Washington, associate vice president for Operations and Business Services – St. Croix; Gail Steele, Board of Trustees liaison, and Una Dyer, director of Presidential Operations, that were responsible for the production of the 2022 Commencement Ceremonies. 

“For the first time since 2018 we had in person ceremonies and this was a wonderful accomplishment,” Hall said.

Additionally, Hall presented a second President’s Appreciation Award to Vice President for Institutional Assessment and Information Services, Sharlene Harris and V. Veda Richards, associate director for Human Resources and Organizational Development/director of Employee Benefits and Immigration Services, for their work and creativity in leading the planning and implementation of the University’s Employee Wellness Day initiative.

“The Wellness Days were a much-needed reprise for employees that helped to improve the morale and collaborative engagement among those who took part,” Hall said. “The outstanding leadership of Vice President Harris and Associate Director Richards was critical in ensuring that health and wellness remain a priority for our employees.” 

Also at the meeting, Board Trustee Erica Johnson Creamer, chair of the Governance Committee, presented the results of the Board’s 2021-2022 Self-Assessment.

“Overall, the assessment results indicated we have a very solid body, working efficiently and effectively to meet its duties and responsibly to the University and to the people of the Virgin Islands,” said Trustee Creamer, who provided a summary of the annual assessment report.  

Board Chairman Smock reported that while in Executive Session, the Board approved and received reports and updates on the following: 

  1. Approved Executive Session Minutes of the March 5, 2022, Meeting of the Board 
  2. Received a report from Dr. Hall regarding the vaccination policy and approved a revised policy 
  3. Received a report from the Academic Research and Student Affairs Committee and approved tenure for eligible faculty members 
  4. Received a report from the Finance and Budget Committee 
  5. Received an update on personnel matters 
  1. Received an update on legal matters from legal counsel 

The next scheduled meeting of the Board of Trustees will be held on Saturday, October 22, 2022.