Above: USVI Governor John de Jongh
By the Caribbean Journal staff
Last week, St Croix-based Seaborne Airlines announced its plans to relocated its headquarters to Puerto Rico, a move that has caused disappointment in the United States Virgin Islands, according to USVI Governor John de Jongh.
The airline announced its move last week, which includes a provision granting a 20 percent stake in the company to the government of Puerto Rico.
“Like many Virgin Islanders, I am disappointed by this decision,” de Jongh said in a statement. “The Government of the Virgin Islands and the residents of the territory have been very faithful to the airline, and we are feeling an emotional response to the company’s decision and the resulting loss of jobs on St Croix.”
The Governor said the USVI government would continue to work with Seaborne “to preserve the routes to and from St Croix and St Thomas, through airport and seaplane bases, as these routes and the resulting traffic provide the lifeblood for our communities.”
“I think that this news underscores the importance of working with corporate entities to ensure their viability,” de Jongh said. “The Government Employees Retirement System (GERS) was highly criticized when it stepped in with loans totaling $4.8 million in 2009 and 2012 to allow Seaborne to first stabilize and then expand its operations to take advantage of the departure of American Airlines. However, Puerto Rico is now providing $16 million to the airline and an equity position, which frankly will allow Seaborne to become a stronger airline and offer more service to the region.”
Seaborne’s move will include a series of new routes out of Puerto Rico, including planned service to Barbados, Antigua and Haiti, among other destinations.
“I am sure that this was a hard decision for Seaborne Airlines because of the company’s ties to our community and their employees,” the Governor said. “I hate losing these jobs, but understand the company’s desire to expand its operations. To some extent being in Puerto Rico will provide an advantage for the company, and we need to determine how it will become an advantage for the Virgin Islands as well. I’m sure that the airline recognizes that without the loyalty of Virgin Islands passengers and the loan from GERS it would not have been able to make this expansion.”