Foreign Vessels Sucking $100k Weekly From Bimini


Tribune Business Editor


Foreign dive boats operating illegally in the Bahamas are sucking $100,000 per week out of Bimini’s economy, a world-renowned dive guru yesterday saying he was “amazed” at the Government’s failure to protect local jobs and millions in potential earnings.

Neal Watson, president of Neal Watson Undersea Adventures, said the problems posed by foreign ‘liveaboard’ vessels had “come to a head” in the waters off Bimini, where multiple boats were exploiting Bahamian national waters and contributing nothing to the economy.

Mr Watson, the immediate past president of the Bahamas Diving Association, told Tribune Business: “It’s very prevalent, particularly right now in Bimini. There’s anywhere from four to six boats [liveaboards].

“You figure those boats are charging around $2,500 per person, and with 10 per persons per boat, $25,000 and four boats operating, that’s $100,000 per week coming out of the Bimini economy.”

He added: “It’s amazing that the Government allows the US boats to bring in 10-20 persons, and clear Customs.

“They are hotels, the bar, gift shop, restaurant and dive operator. It is a self-contained, floating dive resort and contributing nothing to the Bahamian economy. Half the time they clear Customs and don’t touch land again.

“They’re using the resources of the Bahamas, and contributing nothing to the economy, taking money away from Bahamian hotels, dive operators, restaurants. Absolutely hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars a year, are lost to the local economy to these ‘liveaboards’.”

Mr Watson echoed the concerns expressed to Tribune Business last week by Stuart and Michelle Cove, operators of Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, who warned that their increasing overheads and tax burden meant they were increasingly unable to compete with foreign boats operating illegally in Bahamian waters.

They, and Mr Watson, pointed out that foreign ‘liveaboards’ were also largely evading the 4 per cent ‘Charter fee’ they should be paying on their gross revenues, plus the weekly $50 per diver fee.

This, the Coves and Mr Watson are arguing, means such boats are contributing nothing to the Bahamian economy or the Government, while simultaneously taking revenues and jobs away from legitimate Bahamian operators.

And Mr Watson told Tribune Business that many foreign ‘liveaboards’ were anchoring directly above dive sites developed by Bahamians, often destroying them.

“These boats are continuing to operate on the dive sites that Bahamian dive operators use,” he said. “Why do they anchor on our dive sites? They come in and destroy our dive sites, then pull up anchor and go somewhere else. We can’t.”

Mr Watson pointed to the hammerhead shark diving experience created off Bimini as an example, which had been “suddenly flooded with ‘liveaboard’ operators from the US who don’t know what they’re doing.

“For 10 years we’ve not had a problem with hammerhead dives, but these boats are putting chum in the water and getting bull sharks coming in.

“These ‘liveaboard’ are destroying this incredible economic boom and employment for Bimini. This should not be allowed; it’s costing jobs, costing money and creating a dangerous situation.”

To combat the situation, Mr Watson called on the Government to establish a 10-mile exclusion zone around dive sites operated by Bahamians to prevent foreign boats from using them.

Emphasising that Bahamian operators were “not trying to be exclusionary”, he called on the Government to also require foreign ‘liveaboards’ to be based in the Bahamas for nine months per year.

He also suggested that the per diver fee be doubled, from $50 to $100, and enforce payment of the 4 per cent charter fee.

“That would put them on an even playing field, and we could compete with them,” Mr Watson told Tribune Business. “There’s a misconception that Bahamian dive operations are small operators, sitting at the dock and waiting for people to come by.”

He explained, though, that dive operations were key room night and business drivers for resorts, especially in the Family Islands, where they were often either owned, or had partnered, with hotels.

Other key spin-off beneficiaries are restaurants, bars and gift shops, with many dive packages being pre-booked in advance through registration facilities in the US.

Mr Watson likened the ‘liveaboard’ situation to the Government allowing the cruise lines to run their own dive tours in Bahamian waters, or permitting foreign bonefishing guides to operate in this nation.

“The Government would not allow that, so they shouldn’t allow this,” he told Tribune Business. “This situation with Bimini really brought it to a head.

“Our concerns just keep falling on deaf ears. The Treasury certainly needs the revenue, and it’s a shame to see them losing money on top of this.”

Bahamian dive operators say the problems have stemmed from the Foreign Charter Yacht Act (1991 Boat Registration Act, Chapter 277).

This had been designed to attract mega yachts to base themselves in the Bahamas and run charters from this nation, developing a lucrative new market for the country.

The Act was designed to offer a more attractive tax regime than Florida, levying a 4 per cent ‘Charter fee’ on these boats gross revenues, in comparison to a 6 per cent sales tax, plus an annual licence fee linked to vessel size.

But this has instead created “a loophole for all dive boats out of Florida to be quasi-legal”, with many avoiding the 4 per cent of gross revenues charter fee.


asiseeit 7 years, 11 months ago

Most politrickans have no idea what most of the Bahamas is about, IE the ocean. They can not comprehend how we are being raped or what potential the sea's hold. I bet 75% can't even swim.


newcitizen 7 years, 11 months ago

Why is it that the government is broke, but will not go after collecting the fees that it already has on the book and is entitled to collect? Are the people in charge of these things getting paid off by someone to not do their jobs? Are they so selfish as to not care about the country they come from and live in? Everyday we hear of people sneaking through loophole after loophole that the Bahamian Government allows to exist while trying to pinch more and more money from those that can least afford it. Worst of all, why have the citizens stayed idle and said nothing for so long? What will it actually take to motivate the people to demand change and accountability. Our future is what is being wasted away right now.


bahaymeeun 7 years, 11 months ago

Bimini??? Exuma is 50 times worse. All kind of foreign boats doing snorkeling, swimming pig tours, iguana tours, fishing, even spear fishing... exactly the same as Bahamians but not paying one cent! No license, no national insurance, no nothing! It's a disgrace. Bahamians can't go to USA and do tours like that, and especially with no license??? The Port Department here is a joke!


Ben 7 years, 10 months ago

"A world-renowned dive guru?" No not quite, more of a broken down old man well past his prime who, like the proverbial old nutter on the porch steps, is bemoaning the fact, "the new kids on the block" are making a lot of noise.

Stewart Cove is equally noxious with his penchant for women in their 20's and his complete disregard for anyone but S Cove Inc.

You want to know what is REALLY going on?

Classic dive industry turf war over a natural resource. This is about $$$ our and simple, $$$ NOT lining the pockets of old men.


captjohnr3 5 years ago

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A Bill that would ban SCUBA divers from feeding sharks in U.S. waters introduced in Congress

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