By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Senior Reporter
THE Bahamas government said yesterday it will deny a ship registered under its flag permission to dock and disembark its passengers and crew in this country after five people on board tested positive for COVID-19.
However, the ship continued its journey toward The Bahamas up to press time last night because of what its captain said was advice from the British government, adding there were “continuing talks regarding permission to disembark.” The cruise company, Fred Olsen, is based in the United Kingdom.
The Bahamas government pledged to do all it could to provide humanitarian assistance if the ship does arrive to this country.
Fred Olsen’s MS Braemar vessel set sail here with four stricken crew members and an ill passenger after it was denied entry to Barbados where its Western Caribbean and Central America cruise was supposed to end yesterday. On Monday, government officials in Alberta, Canada announced that a recently disembarked passenger of the MS Braemar had tested positive for COVID-19 and a second infection of a returning passenger was confirmed a day later.
The Ministry of Transport said in a statement yesterday: “The Braemar cruise ship carrying five persons who have tested positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus will not be permitted to dock in The Bahamas and passengers and crew will not be allowed to disembark. This decision is based on consideration for the protection of the health and safety of the Bahamian people and residents of The Bahamas.
“The Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) has been in constant communication with the owners of the Braemer, which is a Bahamas-flagged ship. The BMA has reaffirmed to the Braemar that should it arrive in Bahamian waters, The Bahamas will do all that it can to provide humanitarian assistance. This may include providing fuel, food, water and other supplies as needed by the vessel. The BMA continues to monitor the well-being of passengers and crew with updates at regular intervals. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the people who have contracted the coronavirus and who are at immediate risk.”
After the government’s statement was released and reported, ship officials updated their website to say there had been “conflicting information and media speculation” about the matter.
“After speaking with our office in the UK and following advice from the British government, we are continuing our passage to The Bahamas,” the captain said, according to an extract of his announcement on board the vessel posted online by the company. “As I have already mentioned, we have received confirmation that essential services and provisions including medical supplies and fuel are available to us when we reach The Bahamas…As it stands, we are therefore continuing talks regarding permission to disembark. Please bear with me in this incredibly frustrating time, where rumour is plentiful and facts are in short supply.”
It is not clear when the ship is scheduled to arrive in Bahamian waters.
In a previous update, the captain had said the people with confirmed cases of coronavirus and another person with an inconclusive result are being looked after in isolation along with anyone else reporting flu-like symptoms. There was no demand on-board that people stay in their cabins, he said.
The Tribune understands Bahamas Maritime Authority President Denise Lewis-Johnson was summoned for high-level talks with the government as early as Wednesday to discuss this matter.
It is not clear what the implications are of the Bahamas denying docking permission to a ship under its flag.