By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Major cruise lines warned the Government almost four months ago that they were set to issue warnings to their passengers about the crime threat on New Providence, Tribune Business was told last night.
In a letter sent to this newspaper, Terry Thornton, Carnival Cruise Lines’ senior vice-president, said that an unnamed Cabinet Minister was presented with a “draft” warning during a May 2013 meeting of Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) members.
“The Bahamian government was made aware in advance that cruise lines were planning to warn their guests,” Mr Thornton wrote.
“At a Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association security operations committee meeting in May 2013, a minster from the Bahamian government was present and read the draft message one of the major cruise lines intended to communicate to its guests.
“Executives of several other cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Lines, attending that meeting confirmed to the minister that we were considering doing the same.
“Carnival Cruise Lines began providing cautionary information to our guests in late May. Over the past few months, other cruise lines calling at Nassau also have issued similar information to their guests.”
While the Bahamian minister was not named, it is likely to have been minister of tourism, Obie Wilchcombe.
Mr Thornton’s letter is likely to raise questions about why the Bahamas seemed to take no visible action, in terms of increased police presence on Bay Street, downtown Nassau and other tourism areas, to try and head off the cruise lines’ planned warnings.
And questions are also likely to be asked about whether the Government should have alerted the private sector much earlier, and involved them in providing a solution.
Mr Thornton said the cruise lines’ warning was prompted by the May 17, 2013, security alert issued by the US Embassy in Nassau.
“The criminal threat level for New Providence was rated as critical by the Department of State. The security message continues to be provided by the US Embassy in Nassau,”he wrote.
“At Carnival Cruise Lines, the safety and security of our guests is our highest priority, and we recognised our responsibility to raise our guests’ awareness of the need for caution while visiting the island.”
And responding to the FNM’s tourism spokesman, Senator John Bostwick, questioning whether Carnival’s warning was motivated by a desire to encourage its passengers to visit the $5 million Blackbeard’s Cay project, Mr Thornton vehemently denied this.
“With respect to Blackbeard’s Cay, which is marketed by the current owners under the name Balmoral, the project is not being developed by Carnival Cruise Lines and none of our employees work there,” he wrote.
“Furthermore, at the end of all shore excursions to Balmoral, guests are dropped at the end of Bay Street near the Straw market to encourage shopping at local businesses.”
Acknowledging the “close, mutually beneficial relationship” between Carnival and the Bahamas, Mr Thornton said: “Our ships bring millions of guests and crew to Nassau and Freeport every year to shop and dine, and enjoy the many attractions of the Bahamas.
“The Bahamas is an important partner to Carnival and we look forward to continuing to grow that valued relationship in the future.”