By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
The Grand Bahama Chamber of Commerce’s president yesterday voiced fears that the island’s supply chain will be “seriously impacted” if Balearia joins the Grand Celebration in suspending voyages.
Gregory LaRoda told Tribune Business that the potential loss of critical sea access to south Florida threatened to inhibit the ability of businesses to transport goods to Grand Bahama amid a wave of “panic buying” stemming from fears sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is no sense telling people to not panic buy, because that’s what’s going on,” he said. “You can get into some of the stores, but there are long lines so it goes against that social distancing thing because every place you go there is a long line of people trying to buy the basics.
“Some of those basics you can’t find like Vitamin C, Lysol and hand sanitisers. All of the stores seem to be out of those. But people are stocking up on water, groceries and that type of thing, and it’s almost like a hurricane is coming and there is no need for that.”
Mr LaRoda spoke after Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line at the weekend announced what it described as “a voluntary and temporary pause” to its cruising schedule, cancelling all sailings between March 15 and April 8. Its Grand Celebration will resume sailings with its April 10 cruise.
Oneil Khosa, the cruise line’s chief executive, said in a statement: “At Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, the health, safety and well-being of our guests and crew is paramount.
“At the recommendation of the US Centres for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organisation (WHO) and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), we have made the difficult decision to temporarily suspend our sailing schedule. All cruises have been cancelled from March 15 through April 8, 2020. Grand Celebration will resume operations with its scheduled April 10 departure.
“We are in communication with all guests booked on a cancelled sailing, as well as with our travel advisor partners, who have a variety of options available to them under our recently updatedSail with Easepolicy. Those with specific questions should call 800-374-4363. We look forward to getting back to business as usual and welcoming travellers onboard our Bahamas cruises very soon.”
Bahamas Paradise Cruise Line, though, denied that its other vessel, the Grand Classica, was placed into dry dock six months earlier than planned as a result of the coronavirus, as reported by the Palm Beach Post.
Meanwhile, Mr LaRoda expressed fears that Balearia’s service between Fort Lauderdale and Grand Bahama will follow the Grand Celebration although there has been no public confirmation of this yet.
“A lot of us rely on the Grand Celebration as a means of transport, especially with cargo, between the island and Florida, so that stopping - and the Grand Balearia is probably just a few days away from stopping - is going to seriously impact the ability to get stuff on the island. That’s going to present a challenge,” the chamber president said.
He added that the COVID-19 pandemic, with the virus having now reached The Bahamas, would also hold back post-Dorian reconstruction efforts due to the increased difficulties associated with importing “key supplies” to Grand Bahama.
“You have to get it coming in from Florida, stuff like cabinets and those types of things to do the finishing work on some of the repairs. So to the extent that shipping is impacted, getting those stuff in will be impacted,” Mr LaRoda said.
“In terms of the regular merchants, I don’t know how much it has impacted so far, but I am sure they are going to be having problems in getting stuff from their supply chain. So as time goes on we will see more and more impact from this.
“I think the difference between this and Dorian is that with Dorian we knew it was coming, and we knew that no matter how bad it was, within two or three days it will be gone,” he added. “With coronavirus we can’t say that.
“We don’t know how long we are going to be in this mode, and how bad it’s going to get before it gets better, so I think it is the unknown that has people no matter what is said to them. They still appear to be going into this mode of ‘let me get what I can get now because I don’t know how long I am going to be on lockdown if it comes to that’.”
When asked what the Grand Bahama Chamber plans to do to mitigate the economic fall-out, Mr LaRoda said: “We have to see what plans we come with. We have a call between the folks in the industrial community later on today [yesterday], where we will be supposedly strategising and making everyone aware of what protocols we put in place in the industrial sector.
“So far we are doing things like having non-essential people working from home that were supposed to come in to work; restricting visitor access to the terminals and the facilities; practicing good hygiene and social distancing and all of that sort of thing. We are going to be trading notes and seeing how we could assist one another in moving forward through this, but that is for later on.
“The minister (Senator Kwasi Thompson, minister of state for Grand Bahama) is also supposed to update us on the protocols that the government is putting in place, so he is going to be joining us on this call as well and we will see what happens from there.”