By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
THE government is clamping down on cruise ships operating in Bahamian waters, with Transport Minister Renward Wells declaring yesterday discharges at sea will not be tolerated.
His statement came as he revealed officials recently learned of a discharge in Bahamian waters from a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel, however he did not provide specifics. This incident was voluntarily reported to the Bahamas Maritime Authority, he said. A spokesperson from BMA said by next week, the government will be in a better position to report on the specifics of Norwegian’s waste dumping.
Last month, The Tribune reported that Carnival Cruise Line had been caught polluting Bahamian waters yet again in 2019 after being found to have committed the infraction in 2017. Last year, Carnival Corporation reached a settlement with US federal prosecutors that would see it pay $20m in fines for violating terms of its probation in relation to its dumping.
“Let me make one thing clear and in doing so emphatically state that we will defend our environmental sovereignty,” Mr Wells told the House of Assembly yesterday. “Those who have breached our environmental laws will be made to account. The pristine lands and waters of The Bahamas (are) the inheritance of our people. It belongs to all Bahamians, to all of you and to future generations of our beautiful nation.”
He also said: “Your government is moving forward on behalf of the Bahamas to tighten, monitor and enforce our environmental law and protections across the board: including but not limited to prohibition, identification and testing, shipboard procedure; reporting, regulation and enforcement.
“We will ensure strict compliance at all times. Your government will leave as a legacy to our people the elements of a modern, effective comprehensive mechanism for safeguarding our uniquely beautiful environment.”
Repeated incidents of sea pollution, Mr Wells assured the public, had set off a proactive policing and prevention strategy to safeguard against future incidents. As a result, several comprehensive measures will be taken to deal with cruise ships plying Bahamian waters.
Mr Wells said ministry officials circulated the strict definition of Bahamian territorial waters as far as any discharges at sea are concerned.
“We drew, as a nation, in the Archipelagic and Territories Act, a line around our entire archipelago and we advised the cruise ship industry and all international shipping, that anything in this line constitutes the territorial waters of the Bahamas.
“We absolutely prohibited any discharges at sea within this boundary – even discharges that are considered safe by other countries. We will not permit and we will not tolerate any discharges at sea within the waters of our Commonwealth.”
Additionally, the Bamboo Town MP said officials here were closely working with the help of the BMA to ensure there was close communication with all major cruise lines. He said the cruise lines had provided the government with access to ship records and personnel, those on ships, those ashore and with their cooperation, officials plan to develop a broad database of potential and past discharge locations along major routes.
At the same time, efforts are being made to rapidly access all key locations in the archipelago. The exercise is designed sample and analyse data to determine any remedial action needed, and to assure absolute safety. Premised on this information, Mr Well said government will produce baseline data and to allow the ministry to follow any evolution of quality over time.
“We will look to the cruise industry to fund these ongoing studies, as necessary; as well as funding the cost of remediation of any environmental damage found,” the minister said at Parliament yesterday.
Further, clear lines of reporting of any incidents or possible risks were established to the Bahamas Maritime Authority and to a national reporting hotline for all vessels under the Bahamas flag and other vessels within Bahamians waters.
Pointing to the recently passed Environmental Planning and Protection Act 2019 and new Merchant Shipping Bill, which is still being prepared, Mr Wells insisted the country’s ability to hold wrongdoers to account and apply appropriate penalties when required will be enhanced.
In the wake of the most recent reports on Carnival’s dumping in Bahamian waters, Attorney General Carl Bethel said last month that the government will seek compensation under recently passed environment laws.