By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Democratic National Alliance’s (DNA) leader yesterday warned that downtown Nassau’s cruise tourism product would suffer “immeasurable” harm if Carnival Cruise Lines restarted issuing crime warnings to its passengers - an assertion that drew a sharp rebuke from the Minister of Tourism.
Branville McCartney produced three e-mails purporting to show that Obie Wilchcombe and Joy Jibrilu, the director-general of tourism, had failed to respond to repeated warnings from the world’s largest cruise line for almost four weeks.
Implying that Mr Wilchcombe and the Ministry of Tourism had ‘dropped the ball’ on a matter that could cost Bay Street merchants and restaurants multi-million dollar business, Mr McCartney said he understood the cruise line was set to start issuing Nassau ‘crime warnings’ this week.
Mr Wilchcombe, though, angrily refuted Mr McCartney’s allegations, branding them as “totally untrue” and telling Tribune Business that Carnival had yesterday confirmed to him it was not intending to issue such Nassau ‘advisories’.
But, undeterred, the DNA leader subsequently told this newspaper that the furore sparked by his probing had prompted Ms Jibrilu, too, to call Carnival on the matter - something he said was confirmed to him by the cruise line.
Tribune Business, meanwhile, has obtained copies of the e-mails purportedly sent to Mr Wilchcombe and Ms Jibrilu by Carlos Torres de Navarra, Carnival’s vice-president of commercial port operations.
They potentially indicate that a communications mix-up may have been responsible for the Government’s/Ministry of Tourism failure to respond promptly to Carnival’s concerns, and back Mr Wilchcombe’s assertion that he never received the three e-mails from Mr Torres de Navarra.
For each e-mail appears to spell Mr Wilchcombe’s name incorrectly, listing his address as email@example.com. However, it appears that Ms Jibrilu may have been copied correctly on all three documents, as they list a Bahamas Government e-mail address for her. She did not return calls seeking comment up to press time.
Mr Torres de Navarra, in his first e-mail of August 31, 2015, which was also sent to fellow Carnival executive Terry Thornton, said the cruise line’s concerns had been sparked by recent UK and Canadian crime advisories on the Bahamas - especially those concerning Nassau and New Providence.
“What we find disturbing about these advisories is the newest reference to an increased number of ‘crimes directed towards tourists’,” the Carnival executive told Mr Wilchcombe and Ms Jibrilu.
“Because of this we are now reconsidering the issuance of separate advisories to our guests upon arrival into Nassau.”
Mr Torres de Navarra added: “At your earliest convenience, I would appreciate a call to discuss before we move forward.
“We continue to appreciate the strong relationship with the Bahamas, thus the direct message from us and not via any other entity.”
Having received no reply, Mr Torres de Navarra followed-up with a second e-mail on September 3 to the Bahamian duo, asking if Carnival’s concerns could be addressed via a conference call.
Then, indicating that he was becoming somewhat vexed at a lack of response, the Carnival executive wrote on September 26: “Minister, I have yet to hear from you on this important matter.”
Mr Torres de Navarra yesterday confirmed he had written three separate e-mails to the minister, none of which had received a response.
Yet that could be explained by the address to which they were sent, with Mr Wilchcombe asserting he had received none of them.
And both he and Mr Torres de Navarra said Carnival had no plans to issue ‘crime warnings’ of the nature referred to by Mr McCartney.
“It’s totally untrue. I spoke to Carnival (today) and they said they know nothing about what he is talking about,” Mr Wilchcombe told Tribune Business of the DNA leader’s allegations.
“He said that they sent a correspondence to me. I never received those correspondences. How could he get his hand on something like that? That’s criminal. It’s amazing. How is that possible? You have to be very careful about that. There’s a very serious implication there.”
A Carnival spokesperson last night also confirmed to Tribune Business that the cruise line had no plans to upgrade or change the “same security-related messaging we have been providing for some time now on Nassau”.
They added that Carnival, and the other Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA) lines, were set to meet with Mr Wilchcombe next week during its meeting in Cozumel, Mexico.
While there was no confirmation that the Bahamas’ high crime level, which shows no signs of abating, would be discussed with the Minister, it is likely to be high on the cruise line agenda.
“We routinely evaluate the destinations we visit to try to ensure we are communicating appropriate information to our guests on how they can best enjoy the destinations, while at the same time safeguard themselves against unfortunate events,” the Carnival spokesperson said.
“We, as well as all Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association member lines, are in regular contact with the Bahamas government, specifically the Minister of Tourism and other agencies, on matters concerning security.
“At the present time we are continuing to provide our guests with the same security-related messaging we have been providing for some time now with respect to Nassau,” they added.
“The FCCA lines will be meeting with the Minister of Tourism in Cozumel next week during the annual FCCA meeting occurring there.”
Mr McCartney, though, said he and the DNA believed that Carnival would start issuing upgraded ‘Nassau crime’ warnings to the hundreds of thousands of passengers it brings annually to the city this week.
“This was done in 2013, and when it happened hardly any guests came off the ships and this country suffered,” the DNA leader told Tribune Business. “And if Carnival was to issue this advisory, more than likely other cruise lines will follow suit.
“We can’t measure the ramifications of that because it’s too far-reaching. It’s immeasurable.”
Mr McCartney said Carnival appeared to have been seeking reassurances from the Government, and reasons why it should not restart its crime advisories.
And he contrasted Mr Wilchcombe’s and the Government’s seeming failure to respond to the crime warnings - from “a cruise line that perhaps brings more tourists to this country than any other” - with the Minister of Tourism lauding “a meteoric rise” in tourism numbers in his World Tourism Day address.
Mr McCartney suggested it showed the Government was not taking the crime threat “seriously enough”.