British Virgin Islands

virgin Gorda

Virgin Gorda

The Virgin Islands, commonly known as the British Virgin Islands (BVI), is a British overseas territory located in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico. The islands make up part of the Virgin Islands archipelago; the remaining islands constitute the US Virgin Islands and the Spanish Virgin Islands.

The official name of the Territory is still simply the “Virgin Islands”, but the prefix “British” is often used to distinguish it from the neighbouring American territory which changed its name from the “Danish West Indies” to “Virgin Islands of the United States” in 1917. British Virgin Islands government publications continue to begin with the name “The Territory of the Virgin Islands”, and the Territory’s passports simply refer to the “Virgin Islands”, and all laws begin with the words “Virgin Islands”. Moreover, the Territory’s Constitutional Commission has expressed the view that “every effort should be made”, to encourage the use of the name “Virgin Islands”.

The British Virgin Islands consist of the main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, along with over fifty other smaller islands and cays. About 15 of the islands are inhabited. The capital, Road Town, is situated on Tortola, the largest island, which is approximately 20 km (12 mi) long and 5 km (3 mi) wide. The islands have a population of about 27,800, of whom approximately 23,000 live on Tortola.

British Virgin Islanders are classed as British Overseas Territories citizens and since 2002 have had full British citizenship. Although the territory is not part of the European Union and not directly subject to EU law, its citizens are deemed to be citizens of the EU as well.


 

Flag of the BVI

BVI FlagThe flag of the British Virgin Islands was adopted on 15 November 1960. It is a defaced Blue Ensign with the Union Flag in the canton, and defaced with the coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands. The coat of arms features Saint Ursula and the lamps of her virgin followers, which gives the islands their name.

The civil ensign is a red ensign with the coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands. The red ensign is to be flown on board vessels either registered in the British Virgin Islands or by vessels visiting the British Virgin Islands.

The Governor of the British Virgin Islands has a separate flag, a Union Flag defaced with the coat of arms. This design is similar to flags of the other Governors in British overseas territories.


 

Coat of arms of the BVI

The coat of arms of the British Virgin Islands was first granted in 1960.
The arms consist of a shield, featuring a lady dressed in white holding a golden lamp, with 11 other golden lamps surrounding her on a green field. It is a representation of Saint Ursula, a Christian saint who is said to have taken a pilgrimage across Europe with 11,000 virgin handmaidens. When Christopher Columbus sighted the islands in 1493, the islands were said to have reminded him of the story of Saint Ursula, and that is how the islands got their name. The arms were chosen as a representation of this story.


 

History

The Virgin Islands were first settled by the Arawak from South America around 100 BC (though there is some evidence of Amerindian presence on the islands as far back as 1500 BC).
The Arawaks inhabited the islands until the 15th century when they were displaced by the more aggressive Caribs, a tribe from the Lesser Antilles islands, after whom the Caribbean Sea is named.

The first European sighting of the Virgin Islands was by Christopher Columbus in 1493 on his second voyage to the Americas. Columbus gave them the fanciful name Santa Ursula y las Once Mil Vírgenes (Saint Ursula and her 11,000 Virgins), shortened to Las Vírgenes (The Virgins), after the legend of Saint Ursula.

The Spanish Empire claimed the islands by discovery in the early 16th century, but never settled them, and subsequent years saw the English, Dutch, French, Spanish, and Danish all jostling for control of the region, which became a notorious haunt for pirates.
There is no record of any native Amerindian population in the British Virgin Islands during this period, although the native population on nearby Saint Croix was decimated.

The Dutch established a permanent settlement on the island of Tortola by 1648. In 1672, the English captured Tortola from the Dutch, and the English annexation of Anegada and Virgin Gorda followed in 1680. Meanwhile, over the period 1672–1733, the Danish gained control of the nearby islands of Saint Thomas, Saint John and Saint Croix.

The British islands were considered principally a strategic possession, but were planted when economic conditions were particularly favourable. The British introduced sugar cane which was to become the main crop and source of foreign trade, and slaves were brought from Africa to work on the sugar cane plantations. The islands prospered economically until the middle of the nineteenth century, when a combination of the abolition of slavery in the Territory, a series of disastrous hurricanes, and the growth in the sugar beet crop in Europe and the United States[8] significantly reduced sugar cane production and led to a period of economic decline.

In 1917, the United States purchased St. John, St. Thomas, and St. Croix from Denmark for US$25 million, renaming them the United States Virgin Islands.

The British Virgin Islands were administered variously as part of the British Leeward Islands or with St. Kitts and Nevis, with an administrator representing the British Government on the Islands. The island gained separate colony status in 1960 and became autonomous in 1967. Since the 1960s, the islands have diversified away from their traditionally agriculture-based economy towards tourism and financial services, becoming one of the wealthiest areas in the Caribbean.


 

Geography

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The British Virgin Islands are located in the Caribbean, between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean, east of Puerto Rico.Its geographic coordinates are

18°30′N 64°30′W. Map references include Central America and the Caribbean. The area totals 151 km² (about 0.9 times the size of Washington, DC) and comprises 16 inhabited and more than 20 uninhabited islands; includes the islands of Tortola, Anegada, Virgin Gorda and Jost van Dyke.

There are no bodies of water on the land. There are no land boundaries. There is 80 km of coastline. Maritime claims include 3 nmi (5.6 km; 3.5 mi) of territorial sea and exclusive a 200 nmi (370.4 km; 230.2 mi) fishing zone.
It has a tropical, humid climate, with temperatures moderated by trade winds. Its terrain consists of coral islands, and is relatively flat.

It has volcanic islands and is steep and hilly. Its lowest point is the Caribbean Sea and its highest point is Mount Sage at 521 metres (1,709 ft) above sea level. Its natural resources are negligible.
In terms of land use, it is 20% arable land, 6.67% permanent crops and 73.33% other as of a 2005 figure. Its natural hazards consist of hurricanes and tropical storms from July to October.

There is limited natural fresh water resources (except for a few seasonal streams and springs on Tortola, most of the islands’ water supply comes from wells and rainwater catchments).It has strong ties to nearby US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

In addition to the four main islands of Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Anegada, and Jost Van Dyke, other islands include:

  • Beef Island (connected to Tortola)
  • Cooper Island
  • Ginger Island
  • Great Camanoe
  • Great Thatch
  • Guana Island (owned by Henry Jarecki)
  • Little Thatch (owned by John and Jill Maynard)
  • Mosquito Island (owned by Sir Richard Branson)
  • Necker Island (owned by Sir Richard Branson)
  • Norman Island(owned by Henry Jarecki)
  • Peter Island(owned by Van Andel family)
  • Salt Island
  • Prickly Pear
  • Eustatia
  • Saba Rock
  • Frenchman’s Cay (connected to Tortola)
  • Nanny Cay (connected to Tortola)
  • Scrub Island
  • Sandy Cay
  • Green Cay
  • Sandy Spit
  • Little Jost Van Dyke
  • Great Tobago
  • Little Tobago
  • Dog Islands (The Dogs)

 

Climate

The British Virgin Islands enjoy a tropical climate, moderated by trade winds. Temperatures vary little throughout the year. In the capital, Road Town, typical daily maxima are around 32 °C (89.6 °F) in the summer and 29 °C (84.2 °F) in the winter.

Typical daily minima are around 24 °C (75.2 °F) in the summer and 21 °C (69.8 °F) in the winter.
Rainfall averages about 1,150 mm (45.3 in) per year, higher in the hills and lower on the coast. Rainfall can be quite variable, though the wettest months on average are September to November and the driest months on average are February and March. Hurricanes occasionally hit the islands, with the hurricane season running from June to November.


 

Politics

Deadman’s Bay Peter Island

The Territory operates as a parliamentary democracy. Ultimate executive authority in British Virgin Islands is vested in The Queen, and is exercised on her behalf by the Governor of the British Virgin Islands.
The Governor is appointed by the Queen on the advice of the British Government. Defence and most Foreign Affairs remain the responsibility of the United Kingdom.

The most recent constitution was adopted in 2007 (the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007) and came into force when the Legislative Council was dissolved for the 2007 general election. The Head of Government under the constitution is the Premier (prior to the new constitution the office was referred to as Chief Minister), who is elected in a general election along with the other members of the ruling government as well as the members of the opposition. Elections are held roughly every four years. A Cabinet is nominated by the Premier and appointed by the Governor. The Legislature consists of the Queen (represented by the Governor) and a unicameral House of Assembly made up of 13 elected members plus the Speaker and the Attorney General.


Subdivisions

The British Virgin Islands is a non-Federal territory. The Territory is divided into 9 electoral districts, and each voter is registered in one of those districts. Eight of the nine districts are partly or wholly on Tortola, and encompass nearby neighbouring islands. Only the ninth district (Virgin Gorda and Anegada) does not include any part of Tortola. At elections, in addition to voting their local representative, voters also cast votes for four “at-large” candidates who are elected upon a Territory-wide basis.

The Territory is also technically divided into 5 administrative districts (one for each of the four largest islands, and then a fifth for all other islands), and into 6 civil registry districts (three for Tortola, Jost Van Dyke, Virgin Gorda and Anegada) although these have little practical relevance today.


Law & Criminal Justice

Crime in the British Virgin Islands is comparatively low by Caribbean standards (and indeed compared to the neighbouring US Virgin Islands).

Whilst statistics and hard data are relatively rare, and are not regularly published by Governmental sources in the British Virgin Islands, the Premier did announce that in 2013 there has been a 14% decline in recorded crime as against 2012.
Homicides are rare, with just one incident recorded in 2013.

The British and US Virgin Islands sit at the axis of a major drugs transshipment point between Latin America and the continental United States. The American DEA regards the adjacent US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as a “High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area”.
A co-operation agreement exists between the British Virgin Islands and the US Coastguard allowing American forces to pursue suspected drug traffickers through the territorial waters of the British Virgin Islands. In August 2011 a joint raid between the American DEA and local British Virgin Islands police arrested a number of British Virgin Islands residents who are accused of being involved in major drugs transshipments, although their extradition to the United States has become bogged down in endless legal wrangling.


 

Economy

As an offshore financial centre, the British Virgin Islands enjoys one of the more prosperous economies of the Caribbean region.
The “twin pillars” of the economy are tourism and financial services.
Politically, tourism is the more important of the two, as it employs a greater number of people within the Territory, and a larger proportion of the businesses in the tourist industry are locally owned, as are a number of the highly tourism-dependent sole traders (for example, taxi drivers and street vendors).
Economically however, financial services associated with the territory’s status as an offshore financial centre are by far the more important. 51.8% of the Government’s revenue comes directly from licence fees for offshore companies, and considerable further sums are raised directly or indirectly from payroll taxes relating to salaries paid within the trust industry sector (which tend to be higher on average than those paid in the tourism sector).

Tourism

Tourism accounts for approximately 45% of national income. The islands are a popular destination for US citizens. In 2006 a total of 825,603 people visited the islands (of whom 443,987 were cruise ship passengers). Tourists frequent the numerous white sand beaches, visit The Baths on Virgin Gorda, snorkel the coral reefs near Anegada, or experience the well-known bars of Jost Van Dyke. The BVI are known as one of the world’s greatest sailing destinations, and charter sailboats are a very popular way to visit less accessible islands. Every year since 1972 the BVI has hosted the Spring Regatta, which is a seven-day collection of sailing races throughout the islands. A substantial number of the tourists who visit the BVI are cruise ship passengers, although they produce far lower revenue per head than charter boat tourists and hotel based tourists. They are nonetheless important to the substantial (and politically important) taxi driving community.


Financial Services

Great Thatch

Great Thatch

Financial services account for over half of the income of the Territory. The majority of this revenue is generated by the licensing of offshore companies and related services.
The British Virgin Islands is a significant global player in the offshore financial services industry. In 2000 KPMG reported in its survey of offshore jurisdictions for the United Kingdom government that over 45% of the world’s offshore companies were formed in the British Virgin Islands. Since 2001, financial services in the British Virgin Islands have been regulated by the independent Financial Services Commission.

At the end of 2012 the banking sector of the British Virgin Islands comprised 6 commercial banks and 1 restricted bank, 12 authorized custodians, 2 licensed money services businesses and 1 licensed financing service provider.

As such the British Virgin Islands is frequently labelled as a “tax haven” by campaigners and NGOs, and has been expressly named in anti-tax haven legislation in other countries on various occasions. Successive Governments in the British Virgin Islands have fought against the tax haven label, and made various commitments to tax exchange and recording beneficial ownership information of companies following the 2013 G8 summit. On 10 September 2013 British Prime Minister David Cameron said “I do not think it is fair any longer to refer to any of the Overseas Territories or Crown Dependencies as tax havens. They have taken action to make sure that they have fair and open tax systems. It is very important that our focus should now shift to those territories and countries that really are tax havens.”


Agriculture & Industry

Agriculture and industry account for only a small proportion of the islands’ GDP. Agricultural produce includes fruit, vegetables, sugar cane, livestock and poultry, and industries include rum distillation, construction and boat building.


Currency

The official currency of the British Virgin Islands has been the United States dollar (US$) since 1959, the currency also used by the United States Virgin Islands.


Workforce

The British Virgin Islands is heavily dependent on migrant workers, and over 50% of all workers on the islands are of a foreign descent. The national labour-force is estimated at 12,770, of whom approximately 59.4% work in the service sector but less than 0.6% are estimated to work in agriculture.


 

Transport

There are 113 kilometres (70 mi) of roads. The main airport (Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, also known as Beef Island Airport) is located on Beef Island, which lies off the eastern tip of Tortola and is accessible by the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge. Cape Air, LIAT, BVI Airways and Air Sunshine are amongst the airlines offering scheduled service.

Virgin Gorda and Anegada have their own smaller airports. Private air charter services such as Fly BVI and Island Birds Air Charter fly directly to all three islands from any major airport.
The main harbour is in Road Town, there are also ferries that operate within the British Virgin Islands and to the neighbouring United States Virgin Islands.

As in the UK, cars in the British Virgin Islands drive on the left, however they differ in that nearly all cars are left hand drive, being imported from the United States.
The roads are often quite steep, narrow and winding, and ruts can be a problem when it rains. Cyril E. King Airport in the US Virgin Islands has flights to a wider range of destinations, so is also used for travelling to the British Virgin Islands.


 

Demographics

As of August 2013, the results of the 2010 census still had not been published. However, census officials have speculated that the final population count will be around 30,000 people reflecting strong population growth.
At the time of the 2003 census the population was around 21,730. The majority of the population (83%) are Afro-Caribbean, descended from slaves brought to the islands by the British. Other large ethnic groups include those of British and other European origin.
About 4% of the population is of Hispanic origin, irrespective of race, primarily from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The territory has also been recently receiving immigrants from many islands in Lesser Antilles. The islands are heavily dependent upon migrant labour. In 2004, migrant workers accounted for 50% of the total population. 32% of workers employed in the British Virgin Islands work for the Government.

Unusually, the Territory has one of the highest drowning mortality rates in the world being higher than other high risk countries such as China and India.
20% of deaths in the British Virgin Islands during 2012 were recorded as drownings.
All of the drownings were those of tourists. Yet despite this the Territory’s most popular beach still has no lifeguard presence.


 

Education

The British Virgin Islands operates several government schools as well as private schools. There is also a community college, H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, that is located on the eastern end of Tortola. This college was named after Honourable Lavity Stoutt (Chief Minister).

The literacy rate in the British Virgin Islands is high at 98%.


 

Religion

The islands are overwhelmingly Christian (84%) with the largest individual Christian denominations being Methodist (23%), Anglican (12%), Church of God (11%) and Catholic (9%).
The Constitution of the British Virgin Islands commences with a professed national belief in God. Muslims and Hindus constitute each approximately 1.2% of the population.


 

Culture

Language

The primary language is English, although there is a local dialect. Spanish is spoken by Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants.


Music

The traditional music of the British Virgin Islands is called fungi after the local cornmeal dish with the same name, often made with okra. The special sound of fungi is due to a unique local fusion between African and European music. It functions as a medium of local history and folklore and is therefore a cherished cultural form of expression that is part of the curriculum in BVI schools. The fungi bands, also called “scratch bands”, use instruments ranging from calabash, washboard, bongos and ukulele, to more traditional western instruments like keyboard, banjo, guitar, bass, triangle and saxophone. Apart from being a form of festive dance music, fungi often contains humorous social commentaries, as well as BVI oral history.


 

Sport

Because of its location and climate the British Virgin Islands has long been a haven for sailing enthusiasts. Sailing is regarded as one of the foremost sports in all of the BVI.
Calm waters and steady breezes provide some of the best sailing conditions in the Caribbean.
Many sailing events are held in the waters of this country, the largest of which is a week-long series of races called the Spring Regatta.

This is the premier sailing event of the Caribbean, with several races hosted each day. Boats include everything from full-size mono-hull yachts to dinghies. Captains and their crews come from all around the globe to attend these races.
The Spring Regatta is part race, part party, part festival. There are races, games, and music during the day, and some partying at night. The Spring Regatta is normally held during the first week of April.

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