INSIGHT: Carnival’s actions lay our impotency bare

One of the Carnival Corporation's fleet of cruise ships.

One of the Carnival Corporation's fleet of cruise ships.

By Malcolm Strachan

BAHAMIAN people have been expressing outrage at the revelations of Carnival’s illegal dumping of 500,000 gallons of black water, or treated wastewater, in our seas. It wasn’t long ago that the government was expressing its excitement for the role Carnival would be playing in the revitalisation of Grand Bahama’s economy.

Now, the question looms if it is worth it.

Carnival certainly seems to be a bad actor in this instance and its claims of the reports of dumping being unintentional and a result of human error aren’t being bought by the Bahamian people. The fact they were on probation after pleading guilty to an eight-year long ‘conspiracy’ of illegal dumping and cover-up on five of its ships shows this being much more of a business practice than a mistake.

The government, which has been focused on reinvigorating Grand Bahama’s economy, is caught between a rock and a hard place.

Typically, governments never want to have to relinquish any victories and, certainly, Carnival brought hope to Grand Bahamians. Minister Kwasi Thompson, just a few months ago heralded Carnival’s training of Bahamian people - signalling the billion-dollar cruise company’s goal to ingratiate itself with the Bahamian people.

The narrative is quite different now, as there is perhaps nothing Carnival can do to regain the trust of the Bahamian people. No amount of training, donations to charity or kissing of babies may get the company back in the good graces of a populace that largely doesn’t see the national economic benefit of cruises coming to The Bahamas.

Historically, the numbers don’t lie – up until 2015, of the 75 percent of tourists that come to the Bahamas via cruise ships, tourism statistics confirm they only account for 11 percent of the money spent by visitors. More recent findings by the Bahamas Research and Economic Advisors’ Florida Caribbean Cruise Association revealed that since 2015 there has been a 59 percent increase in per capita spending – making The Bahamas the third highest passenger spending destination in the Caribbean, jumping from $243.5m to $322.6m in 2018. While this is a great improvement, the environmental cost is nearly unquantifiable – particularly when a country lacks the capacity to manage the industry.

That we haven’t focused on safeguarding our natural environment up to now reflects extremely poor on successive governments. Likewise, not until recently have we seen the government attempt to enhance our product offerings at the ports. The multitude of projects announced in recent months along with the redevelopment of the Port of Nassau can be a game-changer by enticing cruise ships to stay in port longer.

Although there is no doubt cruise ships seek to ensure their guests spend as much money on in-house entertainment and as little money at ports as possible, this is still something the government has been actively working on.

This is why these revelations could not have exploded at a worse time, and the lack of trust between Bahamians and the cruise companies has no doubt widened. With the controversial decision to allow Disney Cruise Lines’ purchase of Lighthouse Point and the ensuing “secret” signing of the Heads of Agreement, along with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and ITM’s letter of intent to purchase the Grand Lucayan and develop Freeport Harbour, there is heightened sensitivity around cruise developments.

There have already been grumblings within the wider community that Disney Cruise Lines is seemingly walking back some of its promises to South Eleutherans by omission in the Heads of Agreement.

Now, with the government left to do a clean-up job, they’re left “investigating” an investigation that would have seemed to have already concluded with a guilty plea, a $40m fine and a report made public by a US court.

In a statement, Minister of Transport Renward Wells said: “The government of The Bahamas finds these allegations most disturbing and takes this matter seriously and as such has engaged all relevant government ministries and departments to facilitate a comprehensive review and to provide an appropriate response commensurate to the actions.”

He continued: “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 (MARPOL) to which The Bahamas is a party.

“As the port and coastal state in which the violations may have occurred, The Bahamas will investigate and take measures as appropriate.”

Obviously, upon reading Wells’ statement, it has left many citizens confused. Especially since without any environmental protection laws, it seems there is little we can do outside of walking away from this deal.

And you don’t need a degree in Bahamian politics to know they aren’t going to walk away from this project. Rather, it seems as if the government’s investigation is going to go on while the Attorney General’s office burns the midnight oil drafting environmental protection legislation – which he promised by summer’s end.

Of course, Carnival will likely apologise and tout new training processes to assure the Bahamian people that this will never happen again. And capping it off with the promise of more jobs for Bahamian people, all will be right in the world.

Save for the fact that it won’t be.

The only thing these cruise giants care about is the profits they generate. Carnival is no different. If, while on probation for environmental violations, they’ve been involved in 800 incidents of illegal dumping of sewage, food waste, grey water, furniture and more than a half million gallons of oil, we would be foolish to believe this was somehow their “come to Jesus” moment.

The judge that made the report public even regretted not being able to send the company’s president and chairman to jail, but said this: “Although Carnival Corp’s convictions are not unique, the company’s pattern of repeated violations, even when it is under a microscope, show how difficult it is for authorities to hold cruise companies accountable. It also shows the difficulty of strict compliance across 105 ships, more than 120,000 employees, millions of guests and dozens of countries.”

If American authorities have trouble keeping Carnival accountable, the collateral damage of partnering with such a bad actor may be devastating for a country that doesn’t have a single piece of environmental protection legislation on the books in 2019.

We don’t have the legislation nor the will to protect our natural environment, and that is what we should all fear.

Former Attorney General Alfred Sears reminded us recently in a separate discussion of the ‘brokenness’ of the Sir Stafford Sands model. While the government has shown the desire to help Bahamians build businesses, we are still awestruck with foreign investors – obvious remnants of a colonial mindset.

If we are honest, we can agree there is no way a Bahamian cruise company would be able to get away with anything like this in our country, much less in another.

Thus, as Sears put it, the Bahamian can only hope one day to elevate to the treatment afforded foreign investors. We truly do have it upside down.


Well_mudda_take_sic 4 years, 11 months ago

An excellent article Mr. Strachan.

Renward Wells has certainly proven that his mouth is about the only thing capable of discharging more shiite than a Carnival cruise ship.

The only right thing to be done here is ban Carnival cruise ships from our waters and ports until we have the means to monitor and enforce their compliance with our existing laws that serve to preserve and protect our environment. The need for a whole new set of laws in order for our government to be able to take much needed legal and enforcement action against a known unrepentant and repeat violator like Carnival is nothing but a ruse.

There's an overwhelming preponderance of video and photographic evidence available that proves beyond any shadow of doubt Carnival's guilt and contemptuous recalcitrance. We should be levying the mother of all fines on Carnival for their callous and malicious disregard of our natural heritage. Anything less has us all looking like total fools, not only to ourselves, but to the rest of the world. It would just be open season on our environment by any and all foreign investors with their mammoth ships and projects that create millions and millions of tons of environmentally harmful waste and contaminants each year.

Properly policing our environmental laws with respect to the activities of the cruise ship companies in our country will be very costly to say the least and may well be impossible in the case of a really bad actor like Carnival. In all likelihood we would probably be much better off from both an environmental and economic standpoint if we, as a nation, simply parted ways with Carnival. That would at least send an initial right signal to all other foreign owned enterprises seeking to capitalize on and derive handsome profits from our pristine environment.


SP 4 years, 11 months ago

Carnival and every cruise AND cargo ship plying Bahamian waters are guilty of dumping in our waters.

What Dumb-Ass Pindling, Dumber-Ass Ingraham and Dumbest-Ass Christie were focused on will be debated for many, many decades.

We need to halt all negotiations of cruise companies development in our country UNTIL we identify and implement global best practices to properly police these mega companies in our country!


birdiestrachan 4 years, 11 months ago

The FNM Government is to busy banning plastic bags that dissipate. to busy to pay attention to Carnival and OBAN.

For a cold bowl of porridge they will sell the soul. of the Bahamas.


Well_mudda_take_sic 4 years, 11 months ago

No...Poodling sold the soul of The Bahamas decades ago and we have been saddled with his spawn ever since....including the likes of you.


MaryMack53 4 years, 11 months ago

Birdie you sound like a bird! They are taking note now! At least the government aint wiping this under the rug like the past idiots that were appointed.


oxontweet 4 years, 11 months ago

Excellent article. To dos: Join global environmental lobbyists/groups. The Bahamas does not have to reinvent the wheel. This isn’t rocket science. Then: Expedite development of best practise environment laws. Do something not often done in the Bahamas: USE THEM.


jus2cents 4 years, 11 months ago

Driving through Nassau when cruise ships are in port and all you see wobbling by on the sidewalks are drunken, overweight, sun-burnt, tattooed bodies that are barely hanging in to their unfortunate spandex attire. These hoards of 'consumers' are only interested in booze, maybe the odd one will buy a small 'Made In China' thing with Bahamas printed somewhere on it, then they'll stagger back on the boat to consume more of the all-included booze and food.

Of course all that booze and food has to go somewhere...It costs the cruise industry a fortune to pay to get rid of this Shit. They are just big Ships-of-Shit, shitting in the sea and spewing toxic fumes in air everywhere they go. Is it worth it? .......Hell NO! The Bahamas should 'value its worth' Much more than this. The Bahamian government reps cannot negotiate, it is a fact, you just have to look at the record and numbers for proof.
We need to move as far away from this industry as possible and before its too late, once the environment is spoiled any damage done is irreparable. Wake-UP!


Well_mudda_take_sic 4 years, 11 months ago

Amen brother. If Minnis and his cabinet ministers have the audacity and temerity to turn their back on the people in a matter as serious as this one, then all of them should face massive street demonstrations of the kind they have never seen before. This matter strikes a severe blow at the very heart of our natural heritage - we must always fight for, and never ever take for granted, the pristine environment we enjoy on this planet. For Carinal to have treated us as their toilet for the past four decades is absolutely unconscionable, and they should be made to face very serious consequences for having done so. The serious damage has been done and Carnival must be made to pay a dear price. Plenty lip service and a mere slap on the wrist token fine by our government will not cut it.


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