By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
US Chargé d'Affaires Stephanie Bowers toured parts of Grand Bahama and was pleased with the progress of recovery. She said that the US will continue to support the Bahamas during its recovery.
Her remarks came during a welcome reception on board the USS Bainbridge which called at Freeport Harbour, marking the first visit by a US naval ship to the Bahamas since the passage of Hurricane Dorian.
Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, Minister of Finance; Minister of State for Grand Bahama Kwasi Thompson, and Minister of State for Disaster Reconstruction Iram Lewis attended the reception held Thursday evening.
Also attending were Henry St George, vice president of the Grand Bahama Port Authority, ACP Samuel Butler and Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce President Greg Laroda.
The annual visit by a US naval vessel demonstrates the strong partnership, friendship, and close ties between the United States and the Bahamas. While in port, the men and women officers of the USS Bainbridge went to six primary schools and helped paint classrooms damaged by the storm, and also interacted with the students.
Ms Bowers commended Commander Devine and crew for continuing the tradition of giving back to the community whenever a navy ship calls at Grand Bahama.
She said: “The visit of the Bainbridge is a further testament to the bilateral relationship between the US and the Bahamas and the historically close economic, cultural, and social ties.”
“It is fitting that the first visit by a US Navy ship to the Bahamas since the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Dorian is occurring here in Freeport.”
Mrs Bowers toured Grand Bahama and was pleased to see that much progress had been made.
She noted that there is still a long road ahead and that the US continues to stand side by side with the Bahamas during the recovery.
The Chargé d' Affaires said the US and the Bahamas have emerged with an even stronger friendship from the tragedy.
Mrs Bowers indicated that the USAID has provided sufficient funding for Samaritan’s Purse to continue its work, water sanitation, healthcare and shelter programmes well into 2020.
“The US government and the US private sector’s commitment to Grand Bahama extend well beyond Hurricane Dorian’s recovery,” she said, referring to the multi-million dollar mega investments by two major US cruise companies in Grand Bahama.
“We were pleased to learn that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines has agreed to purchase the Grand Lucayan complex and that Carnival Cruise Lines is proceeding with its plans for a new cruise terminal on Grand Bahama,” she noted.
For their part, the US Embassy launched the Academy for Women Entrepreneurs (AWE) in Freeport, with 40 participants from across the island.
Mrs Bowers stated that AWE is a 13-week course to empower women to meet the full potential for economic participation.
“We look forward to even more opportunities to strengthen the embassy ties to Grand Bahama,” she said.
Commander Devine, whose naval career spans some 19 years, took command of the USS Bainbridge in 2019. She said the vessel was called to Freeport to help strengthen the US’ partnership and support of the Bahamian people.
She said crew members participated in several activities while in Freeport, including reading and interacting with school children, painting classrooms, and fellowshipping in a friendly game of basketball with Royal Bahamas Defense Force “to support our friends in the Bahamas.”
Peter Turnquest, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, said the US and Bahamas have enjoyed a long relationship, preceding the country’s independence.
“This indeed is a welcomed visit, and one that we here on GB look forward to every year…to demonstrate the good partnership between the people of the Bahamas and the USA,” he said.
“I have been doing this visit for a number of years and I believe this is the first time we had a ship come in with a female commander. I am sure the young women you seen today will take inspiration from your success. Indeed, anything is possible,” he said.
He commended the crew of USS Bainbridge for their act of volunteerism while on the island and noted that recovery is continuing.
“We still have a lot of recovery effort yet to go in that we still have a lot of destruction to address.
We certainly appreciate all the efforts you put into our community to make the environment just a little bit better than it would have been two days ago,” the MP for East Grand Bahama said.
DPM Turnquest said the Bahamas’ partnership with the US is one that the country depends on, not only in terms of friendship and trade, but also for its security.
“We value (this partnership) as we seek to explore areas of mutual benefit and protection. This visit in a tangible way demonstrates the friendship between us, and we are certainly proud that you have chosen this island.”
Mr Turnquest said that the AWE programme in Nassau was attended by several women from Grand Bahama. He said participants learned skills of entrepreneurship that will lead to an extension of the trade relationships between both countries.
According to statistics, the finance minister reported that the Bahamas exports are roughly $300 million, and imports $2 billion.
“We have a long way to go to try to balance that scale,” he said.
Following his remarks, Commander Devine presented a plaque to Deputy Prime Minister Turnquest and the RBDF.