By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE Minnis administration finds Carnival Cruise Lines’ unlawful dumping of sewage and food waste in Bahamian waters “disturbing”, Transport and Local Government Minister Renward Wells said yesterday, adding the matter is to be comprehensively investigated and appropriate measures taken.
According to the minister, direct communication has been made with the cruise line which has pledged complete transparency and cooperation as a probe is undertaken.
Reporters also asked Attorney General Carl Bethel if there were plans to strengthen the country’s environmental laws in light of the Carnival revelations, to which Mr Bethel said an “aggressive” package of environmental laws is in the works.
This came as the Bahamas National Trust yesterday pointed to Carnival’s guilty plea in 2016 to serious pollution charges and the violation of its probation conditions.
In light of this, the BNT said it was very concerned about these “destructive and illegal practises,” urging the government to do what was necessary to discourage future occurrences.
Carnival ships dumped hundreds of thousands of gallons of treated sewage and more than 8,000 gallons of food waste in 2017, according to a US court-mandated report.
In so doing, the corporation violated the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), which specifies how food waste and sewage must be disposed.
In a statement yesterday ahead of the House of Assembly’s morning session, Mr Wells said the government was carefully reviewing information regarding Carnival Cruise Lines’ vessels within and around the coastal waters of this country over the course of 2017.
“The government of the Bahamas finds these allegations most disturbing and takes the matter seriously and as such has engaged all relevant government ministries and departments to facilitate a comprehensive review and to review and to provide an appropriate response commensurate to the actions,” the minister said.
“Whilst the ships named are not Bahamas flagged, the allegations if founded would be considered serious violations of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973/1978 to which the Bahamas is party. As the port and coastal state in which the violations may have occurred, the Bahamas will investigate and take measures as appropriate.”
The statement continued: “The government has asked the Port Department and the Bahamas Maritime Authority to engage with Carnival and other relevant parties to conduct the investigation into these allegations.
“Contact has already been made with Carnival, who is cooperating fully with the Bahamas and have pledged full transparency in the investigation into the circumstances of this matter.
“Having regards to the US courts ordered five-year environmental compliance plan of Carnival, the BMA has requested from Carnival the US Court auditors ECP 2018 report. The government has been reassured of a comprehensive investigation by the BMA in accordance with international standards.
“Any recommendations arising from the investigation will be implemented to ensure that such incidents do not recur.”
Yesterday, Mr Bethel also weighed in on the controversy, saying stronger environmental laws are being worked on.
“. . .The Minister of Environment Romi Ferreira has been aggressively pressuring my drafting officers to work on an Environmental Protection Act for several months, and we are engaged in that process with his ministry and the Bahamian people can rest assured that we hope that before the end of this year, and hopefully before end of the summer, we will have a comprehensive series of environmental protection laws to further enhance the ability of this country not only to in a sense manage its own environment in an environmentally friendly way, but also properly sanction those who would abuse the privileges that they enjoy to come, for example, and sail in our waters,” Mr Bethel said.
“There are also instances of dumping habits that contribute to the pollution and plastic pollution in our oceans and these practices by guests in our country must be eradicated forthwith. Forthwith.
“And so yes, the Bahamian people can rest assured that we will have [a] very aggressive suite of environmental protection laws that will give the minister all necessary powers to sanction and to prevent, and where he can’t prevent, to obtain recompense of those who violate and destroy or damage our environment.”
When asked how these laws would be enforced, Mr Bethel acknowledged the country’s geographical makeup would make it difficult.
“. . .It’s extremely difficult for a country with a population our size and the limitations of geography to police every square inch of our waters. And also remember that there are several major international shipping routes through the Bahamas. And so, it is a difficult job. But all I can say is that we will do what we have to do to arm the necessary government agencies with the lawful authority to deal with any breaches either as they occur, before any damage is inflicted, or after they occur.”
Asked if there are current laws that can be used in this situation, Mr Bethel said: “We are looking at all of the powers - and there are certainly certain rights under the international convention…. and I have my officers exploring everything as we speak.”
In the face of backlash over the situation, Tourism and Aviation Minister Dionisio D’Aguilar told The Nassau Guardian on Monday new legislation may be necessary to prevent long-term environmental damage by cruise lines.
This suggests the country does not have the needed frame work in place to force compliance with international regulations.