By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
HUNDREDS of frustrated Bahamians and tourists scheduled to sail on Friday to Grand Bahama and Bimini on the Balearia were stranded for more than 24 hours in Fort Lauderdale.
Balearia Bahamas Express, which provides fast ferry service between Florida, Grand Bahama and Bimini – cancelled its sailing to Freeport on Friday, stopping off only in Bimini to pick up passengers there for the sailing to Fort Lauderdale that evening.
Many of the stranded passengers in Florida had nowhere to stay, according to reports reaching The Tribune.
Nevardo Saunders, one of the stranded passengers, described the situation there as a “nightmare.”
He said that he was scheduled to return to Grand Bahama on Friday, but was told that the voyage was cancelled because the US Coast Guard was conducting an inspection of the vessel.
When he and other passengers returned to the port around 4am Saturday, they learned that Coast Guard officials were still conducting investigations and inspecting the vessel. Mr Saunders said that they later saw crew members walking off the vessel.
“We don’t know what the Coast Guard told them or why they are off the ship,” he said in a Facebook live video on Saturday.
Mr Saunders said that passengers were scheduled to sail to Bimini and Grand Bahama.
Because passengers are not allowed to stay at the port over night, all of the passengers had to leave and get hotel accommodations, and pay for car rental with money from their pockets.
He claimed that some passengers could not pay for accommodations or car rental, and complained the company did not offer to provide any accommodations to passengers for the inconvenience.
He also noted that many Bahamian passengers were concerned that meat products they had purchased and packed in the bins had spoiled.
“We have tons of Bahamians who want to get home, but are stuck in Florida with no food, and no money for accommodations, and no money for a car. So, it is just a bad situation, and Balearia is not working with the people,” he complained.
In a statement issued on the weekend, Balearia said the voyage from from Port Everglades to Bimini and Freeport was delayed due to "operational" reasons and apologised for the situation.
"All passengers affected by (the) delay/cancellation will receive a voucher for complimentary round-trip transportation on Balearia Caribbean. This voucher will be valid for one year and can used for either Bimini or Freeport," the company added.
Still, Mr Saunders said that the company’s handling of passengers in Freeport and Fort Lauderdale was “very unprofessional".
“They are very unprofessional and uncooperative. We have not spoken to a representative yet; they are not allowing us to have any conversation with them, and so Bahamians at this point just want to get home," he said in his Facebook video.
“Although a lot of us come to Florida often,...we just want to get home. A lot of us are angry, and depressed,” he said.
"The crew is not on board the ship and we have not been given any word on what is happening; no official has spoken to us as yet,” he claimed.
Mr Saunders noted that in addition to Bahamians wanting to get home, there were tourists who had travelled from as far as Germany, who were supposed to travel to Grand Bahama and Bimini.
“It’s been a nightmare for them, and this is the second day they have come (to the port) and Balearia has not delivered. They telling us they want to give us a free round trip ticket.”
He complained that the cruise company had not offered to provide any accommodations or food vouchers to passengers after being stranded in Florida.
“We are in another country where you have maxed out all your money and they are telling us we can’t even sleep here at the port,” he said.
While many Bahamians travel to Florida to shop, Mr Saunders said there were some who were ill and had travelled to see the doctor and some had gone to pick up their children from college.
“There are all sorts of heart wrenching stories of people who don’t know what to do next – whose clothes are on the bin, who have meat on their bins that may have spoiled - that is wasted money, and Balearia does not want to take responsibility for it,” he said.
“We know things happen, but the way they have handled the situation is very unprofessional and disrespectful."
The stranded passengers arrived at Freeport Saturday afternoon.