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Marsh Harbour ‘Closure’ Crisis

A Google Maps image of Marsh Harbour port.

A Google Maps image of Marsh Harbour port.

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Abaco's main shipping port faces a 'make or break' inspection tomorrow that could result in its closure and derail the island's economy by halting virtually all cargo trade with the US.

Tribune Business can reveal that this blunt warning was delivered by US Coast Guard officials after the Government-owned and managed Marsh Harbour port failed its International Ship and Port Security (ISPS) "mock" inspection on June 18, 2019.

Captain Troy Mills, the Abaco port administrator, in a "call to action" wrote that Marsh Harbour will be "closed down unless there are some major improvements" made in time for Wednesday's follow-up inspection by US and ISPS code overseers.

His letter, which has been obtained by Tribune Business, said: "On June 18, 2019, the ISPS coordinators for the Caribbean along with Lieutenant Commander Justin Matejka of the US coast guard performed a mock inspection of the port facility that resulted in the discovery of a breach in compliance" of both the ISPS code and International Maritime Organisation (IMO) policies.

"As a result of the findings of June 18, 2019, ISPS and US coast guard officers have warned that unless there are some major improvements before the next inspection that is to take place on July 17, 2019, the port of Marsh Harbour will be closed down and ships transporting cargo between Florida and Marsh Harbour would have to discontinue their services," Captain Mills warned.

Such an outcome would likely send Abaco's economy into a tailspin if it were to occur, given that the island - much like the rest of The Bahamas - imports most of what it consumes. With its main port of entry closed, cargo freight would likely have to be sent first to Nassau before being transferred to smaller vessels such as mail boats for onward shipping to Abaco.

This would result in tremendous cost and shipping time increases, with the extra expense passed on to both Abaco businesses and consumers in the absence of direct deliveries, thus undermining one of the most buoyant island economies in The Bahamas.

There is also currently no immediate alternative to Marsh Harbour as a main port of entry with the status of the $40m north Abaco port constructed by China Harbour and Engineering Company (CHEC) uncertain.

The ISPS is a worldwide protocol that was implemented in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks. Designed to prevent a repeat of such atrocities, it mandated that every country upgrade security infrastructure and procedures around its major shipping ports and the vessels that use them.

Non-compliance with the code raises an immediate "red flag" that threatens loss of both commercial shipping traffic as well as other forms of business, such as cruise ships, for ports that fall into this category.

One shipping industry veteran, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the loss of ISPS status would be a blow resulting in increased shipping costs, delays and supply chain inefficiency.

"I'd heard that Marsh Harbour had failed its ISPS inspection. That creates a whole lot of problems for foreign carriers departing your port back to the US. There is an increase in security protocols if you have left a port that is not ISPS certified," they said.

"The US coastguard and US ports will be on notice, and the US port will increase its protocols around that arriving vessel. It creates a lot of expense. It introduces inefficiency to the supply chain, impacts exports and imports in terms of the speed at which cargo is moving, and doesn't help the local economy. If a port fails its inspection, it's going to impact trade."

The shipping industry executive added that US coast guard officials often worked alongside the Government's Port Department, which is The Bahamas' ISPS coordinator, to ensure that local ports of entry were in compliance with the worldwide standard.

"ISPS certification is certainly something not to be taken lightly," they said. "It happens when people get lazy, and when funding is not available to support an ISPS focus, such as the fixing of fences, lighting and manpower."

Abaconians yesterday expressed mixed views on whether Marsh Harbour is ready to pass Wednesday's inspection following an intensive effort by the private sector and local government officials, together with Captain Mills and his staff, to address the weaknesses identified one month ago

Ken Hutton, the Abaco Chamber of Commerce's president, told Tribune Business that there was "no chance of losing ISPS certification" based on the work stakeholders had put in.

While acknowledging the "detrimental" impact to the Abaco economy and the cost of living if the Marsh Harbour port was to again fail, Mr Hutton said the deficiencies included "nothing fatal" and had been greater in number than severity.

"Loss of ISPS certification would definitely cause problems here," he added. "We are, and remain, very concerned. It would definitely have a detrimental effect on economic activity here, and certainly have an effect on the cost of living.

Then, striking a more positive tone, Mr Hutton added: "In terms of the inspection on the 17th, there was a punch list of items to fix, and it's looking pretty good. Pretty well all the issues have been addressed, and I don't think there will be any problem with the final inspection.

"There were a number of items that had to be fixed and nothing fatal. It was the sheer scale of items to be addressed, and they've done a tremendous job dealing with them. I don't think there's any chance of a loss of ISPS certification.

"I've been in the shipping business before, and there is nothing onerous outstanding that would cause them to lose it... I think the port is going to be fine."

However, Mr Hutton's optimism was not shared to the same extent by Roscoe Thompson, chairman of the Marsh Harbour/Spring City town council, who suggested the outcome of Wednesday's inspection is a much closer call.

He told Tribune Business that the upgrades made by the private sector and local government had given the port a fighting "chance" of at least winning an "extension" and remaining open, as he blamed the threat to Marsh Harbour's ISPS status on inaction by successive PLP and FNM administrations even though they knew of the looming problem.

Mr Thompson argued that an inspection conducted two years ago around the time of the general election had flagged up numerous failings related to security, lighting and fire alarms, yet repairs had again been left until the last minute.

He said many Abaconians were "annoyed" that local government and the private sector had been forced to "bail-out" the central government by financing, and overseeing, critical repairs to the Marsh Harbour port.

Mr Thompson said the Marsh Harbour/Spring City council had arranged for locksmiths, lighting and CCTV specialists to examine why these systems were not working in the month since the June 18 inspection, while the Abaco-based Port Department had sought and obtained quotes for the repair work.

"All the major shipping companies, organisations and brokers had to come together to spend money out of their own pocket to clean the port up and make it presentable for inspection on Wednesday," he told Tribune Business.

"Everybody that had something to with the port, bringing freight.. Fast Ferries committed to fixing part of the fence. If it was not for the business owners, shipping companies and local government that port would probably be shut down on Wednesday. Now at least we have a change to get an extension.

"I don't understand how you let a port in any island get to the state where it does not meet an inspection in three years. I still don't think all the criteria have been met. The CCTV system is down, the alarm is inoperable. None of the inefficiencies have been fixed. They wait until the last week."

Mr Thompson said Renward Wells, minister of transport and local government, who has portfolio responsibility for the Marsh Harbour port had "dropped the ball on this". He said the same applied to Abaco's two MPs, Darren Henfield, minister of foreign affairs, and James Albury, parliamentary secretary in the Prime Minister's Office, who he had informed of the looming crisis when they took office two years ago.

Mr Thompson said neither Mr Wells nor Mr Henfield had replied to his recent messages, although a response was obtained from Mr Albury. The latter told Tribune Business he was unable "to speak on the phone at this moment" and would have to call back. No reply was received before press time.

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 3 months ago

The shipping companies that use the port need to start cleaning up on a daily basis and on their dime all of the mess they create at the port each and every day. They should be paying for all security and safety costs at the port directly themselves rather than by way of fees/taxes levied on them by government. As we all know, fees/taxes that government collects for one thing are always spent on another thing.

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The_Oracle 3 months ago

So what is the story with the Chinese port built at coopers town? Falling apart already or no $$ for furniture?

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DDK 3 months ago

'Tis a national secret!

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observer2 3 months ago

Yes but the Abaco port is better run under the FNM than the PLP.

Better give Hotmix the $40 million contract to fix.

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TheMadHatter 3 months ago

Just a gimmick to get the Chinese port opened and running in the north. It doesn't really matter anyway, cause there are no Bahamians living in Abaco, so it will not affect the Bahamian people.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 3 months ago

For every Bahamian living in Abaco today, there are at least 10 illegal Haitian immigrants

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observer2 3 months ago

😂...10 Haitians serving 1 foreigner in Bakers Bay.

Only Hard working Bahamians speaking Creole need only apply.

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crawfish 3 months ago

Go ahead and change the subject from the crisis at hand. No matter how the FNM 'found' the Marsh Harbour Port in 2017, it has had two full years to correct the situation. Notice the Port Director advised Nassau AFTER the Coast Guard issued its warning a month ago. So, if the issues have persisted for two full years, and suddenly they could be resolved in less than 4 weeks, it begs the question of what has the Port Director and those responsible been doing in the interim? Such problems can be addressed only if we focus on those who are currently in a position of responsibility and who are being paid to perform these duties. It makes no sense to blame previous employees when current ones have had sufficient opportunity to bring things up to date. In other words, don't take the People's Money if you are not willing to earn it. My 2 cents.

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yeahyasee 3 months ago

ACCOUNTABILITY! There is none and so the blame game continues...

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Islandboy242242 3 months ago

Seems kinda like fear mongering. They said the mock inspection was done June 18th, they said they have been working since to fix the issues in time for July inspection. Either they did or they didn't correct it and will only have themselves to blame. Most likely there were 1 or 2 bigger issues that they should've fixed in a month, might be a few smaller infractions left over that probably won't shut the place down.

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DDK 3 months ago

Remind me why we pay these Cabinet Ministers and M.P.'s (and their predecessors).............

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MassExodus 3 months ago

Still waiting on an answer from the M.P. about why the Mud and Peas, and the surrounding illegal shanty towns will be regulated. Last year at this time, they implied the Shanty Towns would receive additional time until July 2019. Well it is July 2019, and I don't think the illegal shanty towns, will help in future inspections of the port, particularly due to the proximity.

WHY do the middle class have to burden the majority of all the taxes, and have marginal buying power, while illegals steal electricity, live in structurally illegal buildings, operate illegal un-taxed business within these communities? Illegal immigrants can't work so crime inevitably increases, diseases increase such as tuberculosis and HIV.

This entire area demands REGULATION!!! Marsh Harbour is going to the dogs...

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TheMadHatter 3 months ago

Do you spend money at businesses that employ Haitians?

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MassExodus 3 months ago

No, it has always been my principal not to support. Obviously particularly illegal employment, of gardeners/landscapers and handymen... When you see cars driving around, without plates, those are mostly Hatians, that can't legally own vehicles, due to their illegal status. It is disgraceful that police regularly ignore these vehicles. They are parked all over Marsh Harbour, and it is irritating to residents that are actually required to follow the laws or else.

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Seaman 3 months ago

You all need to take a look at Marsh Harbour International AirPort. Only a few years old and already a sh:: hole. Mold all over , bathrooms not working. Dirty as can be. Sorry, the average Bahamian who has a Government job has zero pride in the job they hold. All it is to them is money for no work. No hope for the Bahamas.

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sheeprunner12 3 months ago

Very good point ............ We like new shiny things, but do not maintain them

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Well_mudda_take_sic 3 months ago

Successive corrupt governments cannot even maintain the most easily maintainable properties, yet they somehow think they can maintain the country.....well, just look at the state of our entire country today.

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