UPDATE: A statement has been released from Baleària Caribbean with regards to this matter: “Since 2011, our Company, Baleària Caribbean, has been performing schedule ferry services between Ft. Lauderdale and Grand Bahama Island. This past August we added ferry service to the Island of Bimini as well.
In relation to Hurricane Dorian, our Company desires to confirms the following:
“From the moment we first became aware that certain areas of the Bahamas were going to be impacted by Hurricane Dorian, our Company contacted the Government of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the various agencies involved in social services for the purpose of providing support and assistance to the residents of the Bahamas among whom are many of our valued employees.
“Baleària Caribbean was able to re-establish its regular ferry services with Bimini and Grand Bahama (Freeport) this past Friday, September 6. In the past three days since then, our Company has transported over 1,750 passengers, many of whom were Bahamian residents and technical and support personnel. Our Company has also assisted in the transportation of equipment and material to help those in need in the Island of Grand Bahamas.
“We continue to maintain a policy to transport at no charge those affected citizens of the Bahamas who are in need of such transportation to Florida or between Freeport and Bimini.
“We regret and apologize for the hardship and inconvenience experienced by the 119 passengers who are residents from Grand Bahama Island who could not be transported yesterday, Sunday, September 8. We boarded these passengers with the understanding that they could travel to the United States without visas, only to later having been advised that in order to travel to Ft. Lauderdale they required prior in-person authorization from the immigration authorities in Nassau.
“In coordination with U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP), our Company is informing all Bahamian residents of the required travel documentation necessary for travel to Ft. Lauderdale.
“Baleària Caribbean and its affiliate companies comprise the Baleària Group which has a long-history of corporate responsibility dedicated to the betterment of the social and economic development of the different markets it serves. As a Spanish headquartered transport group, we have signed on to the obligations of the United Nations Global Compact to meet the basic fundamental responsibilities to the people and nations we are privileged to serve as part of our long-term growth and corporate culture.
By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
NATIONAL Emergency Management Agency officials emphasised Monday that no special arrangements have been made to facilitate the entry of Bahamians affected by Hurricane Dorian into the United States.
The announcement came after crew of the Balearia Caribbean Ferry demanded that passengers without a US visa disembark the vessel, prompting the exodus of reportedly 100 or so people.
“It’s hurtful because I’m watching my daughter cry, but it is what it is,” one person told Brian Entin, a reporter for Miami TV station WSVN who was on board the vessel.
During a press conference Monday morning, NEMA spokesman Carl Smith said: “NEMA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to advise the public that there are no new arrangements that have been established to facilitate entry of Bahamians into the United States or Canada. Bahamians interested in traveling to the United States or Canada should ensure that they have all of the usual immigration documents required by those countries for entry. While most inquiries have come in respect to movement to the United States or Canada, NEMA can confirm that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is not aware of any new arrangements for any other country. We are aware of an incident reported on a large passenger vessel headed to the United States from Florida. NEMA has requested that the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs investigate this matter.”
Bahamians travelling to the US can do so with a passport and a clean police record.
Last week, US Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott asked President Donald Trump to waive some visa requirements for Bahamians following Hurricane Dorian and to make it easier for them to seek shelter with their families in the United States.
Senator Scott, in a statement today, called on the US Customs and Border Protection to work with the Bahamian government to clarify rules regarding visas in the Bahamas so confusion does not occur.
In an interview with Mr Entin, US Customs Border and Protection representatives said Balearia forced passengers off without their input. One said: “We would’ve basically made sure that everyone was properly documented and facilitate that process working with the cruise lines so why they said that I wouldn’t know and it’s really heartbreaking for them to say that to these people who have really suffered beyond comprehension.”
Another official said had the passengers arrived to US borders, they would have been processed and vetted in accordance with US laws.
“I think it was a business decision by Balearia to remove them, they were not ordered off the boat by any US government entity," one officer said, adding they would have been allowed to enter the country on a passport and police record. The officers recommended that transportation companies coordinate with the Bahamas government and US embassy in Nassau to make sure the process is orderly and that expectations are not unreasonably raised.