By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Carnival Cruise line dumping fiasco highlights the “urgent need” for the Minnis administration to pass a comprehensive Environmental Protection Act (EPA), says attorney Fred Smith, QC.
In a statement released yesterday, Mr Smith also noted the over $40m fine imposed on Carnival by United States courts for various offences provides The Bahamas with a “perfect model” for cruise ship oversight legislation.
He added that if The Bahamas had previously passed an EPA — as the Minnis Administration promised while in opposition — The Bahamas could have had its own environmental officers inspecting each cruise ship that enters its waters, thus creating jobs.
The Bahamas National Trust also released a statement highlighting its concern about the dumping saga.
“Revelations of the dumping of sewage and food waste by cruise ships within our maritime borders is a clear sign of the urgent need for the Bahamas to police its own waters,” Mr Smith said, adding the country can no longer leave protecting its environment in the hands of the US or international agencies.
“In order to do this, however, the government must immediately pass a comprehensive [EPA] applicable to all marine and terrestrial operations, ventures, developments, etc. that take place within this jurisdiction.
“This was a promise made by the [Free National Movement] while in opposition, which they seem to have conveniently forgotten in the two years since coming to office.”
Mr Smith also highlighted the response of the US courts “and the opportunity it reveals for the Bahamas in our own efforts to protect the marine environment from pollution and other major environmental pressures”.
“The courts found that the dumping was the result of individual cases of human error, not any plan or policy on the part of Carnival, and imposed a $40 million fine, which the company has paid. The incidents came to light because in 2016, the courts had ordered that Carnival assign, at their own cost, environmental compliance officers to each and every ship who would report to the court on a regular basis,” Mr Smith continued.
“Here, we have what I believe is a perfect model for our own legislative regime of cruise ship oversight – continuous monitoring with hefty fines and penalties. In fact, if the government had moved swiftly on its promise to pass an [EPA], we could have already had our own environmental officers on each and every ship that passes through our waters, funded by the cruise companies, and the $40 million paid by Carnival to the US courts could have been collected into our own special fund for use in environmental protection initiatives.”
Mr Smith also noted under the Hawksbill Creek Agreement and under the Freeport Act, the Grand Bahama Port Authority has been “begging” the government to implement environmental bylaws for Freeport since 1993, “as they were required to do so”.
“We have huge land and sea projects that are on the table over the coming years in the Bahamas, and particularly in Freeport. It is time that the government brought into force, the environmental bylaws which the Grand Bahama Port Authority prepared nearly 20 years ago and has been begging the government to implement so that protecting the environment can have regulatory teeth within Freeport for all residents and licensees.”
Earlier this week this newspaper reported how Carnival Corporation broke international environmental laws many times in Bahamian waters, according to a newly-released court mandated report.
The report, which covers April 2017 to April 2018 and was prepared by a US court-appointed monitor, reveals how Carnival illegally dumped hundreds of thousands of treated sewage in Bahamian waters along with more than 8,000 gallons of food waste.
And in December 2016, the Princess Cruise Lines, a subsidiary of a Carnival Corporation, pleaded guilty to seven felony counts related to vessel pollution and efforts to conceal that pollution, one count of conspiracy, four counts of failure to maintain accurate records and two counts of obstruction of justice. The cruise line had to pay a $40 million criminal penalty, the largest ever for deliberate vessel pollution.
The dumping violated the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) which specifies how food waste and sewage must be disposed.
The US government has extracted millions from companies over the years by aggressively enforcing compliance with MARPOL, but it is not clear whether The Bahamas has the legislative framework in place to do the same.
Yesterday, Attorney General Carl Bethel said the government hopes that by the end of the year, and “hopefully” by the end of the summer, “we will have a comprehensive series of environmental protection laws to further enhance the ability of this country”.
Meanwhile, the BNT noted it is “very concerned about this issue” and is “taking a close look at this matter”, in a statement released yesterday. “We trust that the relevant government agencies are aware of these charges, and will be tracking developments so as to discourage future occurrences of such destructive and illegal practices, in Bahamian waters and elsewhere in our oceans,” BNT noted.
The BNT added it is prepared to lend its support to help the country create any policies or legislation needed to “better regulate the cruise lines and visiting pleasure craft, as well as the local pleasure and commercial fleets.”