By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The developer behind Bimini’s controversial cruise ship terminal yesterday pledged “unwavering commitment” to the island and the project, despite opponents “jumping for joy” over their night-time sailing ban.
Genting’s Resorts World Bimini affiliate yesterday attempted to ‘put a brave face’ on developments, after Tribune Business exclusively revealed that their whole $275 million investment - and the creation of 500 new Bahamian jobs - is being jeopardised by a US government agency.
“Night cruises are one part of the Resorts World Bimini guest experience, which we consider vital. Our commitment to Bimini is unwavering,” Resorts World Bimini said in response to Tribune Business’s inquiries.
A later statement, issued by the company’s Bimini-based spokesperson, Michelle Malcolm, confirmed that the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) ban on the night-time sailings would not impact its daytime voyages bringing passengers to the Bimini Bay Resort.
“There is currently a restriction placed on our ability to operate the night cruise product with our world class, international crew,” Ms Malcolm confirmed. “The restriction went into effect on November 28.”
She added: “The restriction is a reversal on the part of CBP, which had previously granted us permission to operate the night cruises with our current crew.
“The pending motion for preliminary injunction is intended to prevent the restriction from remaining in effect while the court reviews the merits. The matter is on a ‘fast track’ for resolution.
“The restriction has a material impact on the evening cruise experience and ability to offer guests the full complement of our product line. This restriction does not affect the daytime cruise operation that delivers passengers to Resorts World Bimini on a regular basis.”
However, as revealed by Tribune Business, Resorts World’s court filings in Washington D. C. make clear that without the additional revenues and earnings generated by the night-time excursions, the company’s entire business model - including the Bimini sailings and Bimini Bay visits - is unsustainable.
Gregory Karan, the senior vice-president of Bimini SuperFast Operations, the cruise ship end of Resorts World’s operation, said in an affidavit filed on December 13: “Without the evening excursion, Resorts World Bimini simply cannot generate the revenues needed to continue the day excursions [to Bimini], meet our financial commitments and otherwise continue the foregoing contributions to the local economy in Miami.”
He added that replacing the entire 600-strong workforce on the cruise ship side of Resorts World’s operations would require it to pay millions of dollars in severance pay, “and place the entire operations of Resorts World Bimini in peril”.
Obie Wilchcombe, minister of tourism, who is currently in the US, said he was unaware of Resorts World’s CBP lawsuit or the implications for the entire Bimini project when contacted yesterday by a Tribune reporter.
Mr Wilchcombe, who is also the MP for Bimini, was e-mailed a copy of the article, but could not be contacted for comment before press time.
This raises questions about whether the Christie administration was informed by Resorts World Bimini about the implications of its US difficulties.
This is particularly important, given that the Government is relying on the company’s $150 million hotel expansion project to increase Bimini Bay’s workforce from 300 to around 800 and stimulate the island’s economy.
Yet Bahamian environmental activists who have opposed the Resorts World Bimini cruise terminal and jetty project reacted with unconfined jubilation yesterday after reading Tribune Business’s report.
Joseph Darville, a director of Save the Bays, the group that has worked with the Bimini Blue Coalition on its Judicial Review action that aims to stop the project, said: “When I saw The Tribune headline, I jumped for joy. I feel very good.
“All of us are exceedingly happy, and personally, I would hope our government acts in that regard and puts a stop to any impact to the environment.
“The US situation is dealing with one issue, and we’re dealing with a situation that is more critical than in the US, which is the preservation of our environment.”
Attorneys representing the Bimini Blue Coalition, Resorts World Bimini and the Government were yesterday locked in a court battle before Justice Hartman Longley in Freeport over the former’s demand for an injunction that would halt all construction work on the proposed cruise terminal.
While Justice Longley had previously granted the Coalition’s application to bring the Judicial Review action, he adjourned hearing the injunction application and application for document discovery until Monday.
However, both the Government’s and Resorts World Bimini’s attorneys demanded that the Coalition provide security for costs at Monday’s hearing, meaning that it would have to put up money to cover their legal costs if its action ultimately proved unsuccessful.
And Resorts World Bimini, which is represented by McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes, also demanded that the Coalition gave an undertaking to pay damages, failing which no injunction should be granted.
Justice Longley said he was going to treat the security for costs applications and the undertaking in damages issues as preliminary issues, prior to hearing the Coalition’s injunction application, and adjourned all three applications to yesterday.
The Coalition, represented by Ferreira & Company, said it would resist the Government and developer demands, but the case’s outcome was not known as Tribune Business went to press last night.