By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
A MANPOWER audit revealed that the Port Department, currently home to 110 workers, needs 60 to 70 more people to effectively carry out a mandate that includes ensuring commercial vessels are properly registered and inspected, acting Port Controller Raymond King told The Tribune.
His statement came a week after the Bahamas Maritime Authority's report into the deadly 4C's accident in Exuma, which concluded the port's inadequate resources is crippling its functioning.
The BMC's report said that in Exuma there are 18 commercial charter boat companies in operation, only six of which are registered with the Port Department while the others have applications pending but continue to operate commercially.
The port is now gearing up for joint operations with the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to target law-breakers across the country, Mr King said.
"We did an exercise in San Salvador where we recognised it was less than one fifth of the vessels that were registered and so we have operations lined up to reach all these Family Islands, particularly ones that have a high volume of maritime activity," he added. "We are going to make sure persons have been compliant with laws and regulations. It is a mammoth task when you realise we have 13,000-plus private vessels in the country, another 8,000 commercial vessels, plus smaller watercraft vessels which total about 500. The port could definitely use an increase in manpower."
4C's licence remains suspended after investigators determined its vessel, which had an onboard explosion in June killing an American woman and causing two others to have limbs amputated, was not registered or inspected. An application for its registration was not made with the Port Department. Although the boat was too damaged for investigators to determine a cause for the explosion, it was determined that the vessel was not constructed to standard and its fuel hose did not meet the specification for its intended use.
The matter is being reviewed by the Office of the Attorney General. Once the OAG makes a decision, it will pass its conclusions on to the New Providence Port Authority, which has the power to suspend or revoke an operator's licence.
The penalty for failing to have a vessel registered or inspected includes a fine and/or prison time, according to the Commercial Recreational Watercraft Act.
One initiative the Port Department is embracing would make it easier to identify boats that are up-to-date with their registration and inspection. Currently, operators have what the industry calls a "hard card" that is not transfixed to a vessel but features registration and inspection information.
Mr King wants the port to introduce decals.
"We'll have the card that the owner can keep secured because weather conditions could deteriorate cards overtime but we are moving toward using decals, something that inspectors can easily verify and see, like a car being inspected, you can tell if a vessel has been inspected," he said.
The port is in the process of introducing an automated system that would allow information about vessels to be more easily updated.
Legislation governing maritime activities is also being reviewed. The process began under the Christie administration but has so far resulted in few amendments being tabled and passed in the House of Assembly.
"The proposed legislation once passed will close all of the gaps as we know them to date," Mr King said. "One of the key things is the pleasure craft vessels as current, they are not required to be inspected nor produce liability insurance so we're moving to correct those things so they could operate similarly to commercial vessels."