• Boats denied movement contrary to PM order
• Bahamas 'chasing away little business we have'
• ABM chief urges all to 'get on the same page'
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Association of Bahamas Marinas (ABM) president yesterday warned this nation cannot afford a repeat of the weekend "havoc" that saw boaters "harassed" and denied entry by government agencies.
Peter Maury told Tribune Business The Bahamas was in danger of "chasing away the little business we do have" after the actions of law enforcement authorities ran contrary to the Prime Minister's emergency order allowing seaports - including marinas - to remain open on New Providence despite the holiday weekend lockdown.
Citing several incidents that were brought to his attention, Mr Maury said the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) treated Nassau Harbour as "closed" to all boating traffic and sought to prevent a Brazilian family - who had complied with all health protocols - from leaving his Bay Street Marina on their yacht to head to the Exumas chain.
Disclosing that he and his staff had to request intervention by Dionisio D'Aguilar, minister of tourism and aviation, so that their client could eventually depart, Mr Maury said he was also informed that two Bahamian citizens - returning by boat from the US with the required negative COVID-19 PCR test and other necessary documents - were denied entry to Palm Cay's marina.
Instead, they were forced to anchor offshore in an open boat, amid rain and thunder, from 10am on Sunday until 5am yesterday morning when the weekend lockdown officially ended. The ABM chief said he had been informed incoming boats were also turned away from Albany's marina by Immigration, with officers refusing to clear arrivals on the basis that all seaports were closed.
Suggesting that he was almost lost for words, Mr Maury said all parties - private sector marinas and the Government's agencies - needed to be "on the same page" when it came to the interpretation and application of the COVID-19 emergency powers orders.
Otherwise, he warned, the mixed messages and conflicting actions threaten to "damage" The Bahamas' lucrative boating/yachting market - one of the few segments that has been able to remain operational straight through from June 15 - and undermine its competitiveness at a time "when we need every dollar we can get" in the battle for scarce visitors.
Mr Maury said he had been assured yesterday by Lieutenant Commander Berne Wright, the Port Department's head, that there will be no repeat of last weekend and that visiting boats will be able to "transit according to the Prime Minister's order".
Dr Hubert Minnis, in his address unveiling the latest lockdown measures last week, specifically exempted air and sea ports on New Providence from these restrictions given that the negative COVID-19 PCR test and 14-day mandatory quarantine requirements (the latter until November 1) remain in place and provide sufficient safeguards against the virus being imported.
Mr Maury, arguing that the Prime Minister's speech and its written text could not have been clearer, told this newspaper that the reality on the ground over the weekend did not match the content of the address.
He said: "Boats that called to come into the [Nassau] harbour were told the harbour was closed. A Brazilian family who keep their boat here flew into go to Exuma on Saturday, with negative PCR tests and health visas permitting them to travel. Their boat was harassed, and not allowed to leave.
"The Royal Bahamas Defence Force took it upon themselves to lock everything down. They were not following what the Prime Minister said, and what the order reads. They told them [the Brazilian family] that the harbour was closed, but that's not true.
"In the end my staff were able to get the minister of tourism on the phone, and the sea ports and airports are open.... It makes no sense for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to counter what the Prime Minister says."
Such issues were not confined to Bay Street Marina's clients. "There was a Bahamian boat that came in with two Bahamians on it," Mr Maury added of another report made to him. "They were on a 30-foot console, and had their negative PCR tests. They're in an open boat, brought it from the US, and were told to anchor out and couldn't come into Palm Cay until 5am this morning.
"I asked the Port Department: What sense does that make? It was rainy and there was lightning. The fact we cannot read a simple order puts the whole business in jeopardy, it puts the whole industry in jeopardy. At this point I don't know what to say. At Albany, Immigration refused to clear a boat because they said the sea ports were closed."
The ABM president said the actions of the Government agencies, in contradicting the advice Bahamian marinas were giving their international boating clients, was causing "a lot of mistrust among visitors".
He added: "We have a huge misunderstanding among government agencies. It's really upsetting a lot of businesses, and what little business we have. It's causing a lot of confusion and disruption. The biggest thing is the confusion is putting the industry at fault. We say this is what the order says, and these guys are saying, no it isn't.
"The miscommunication and misunderstanding is definitely disrupting the private sector and damaging what little business we have. I had three boats in and they've all left. I have my regular boats now, but how are we going to start competing as a country if we do this? The Prime Minister needs to make the order and the bureaucrats need to get out of the way.
"It's quite shocking to me. It's causing havoc and is a shame, because what little business we do have is being chased away. If they don't get it together it's not going to make for an easy November 1 opening and smooth business," Mr Maury continued.
"We need to all get on the same page, otherwise this stuff is going to be very difficult and a huge problem for the private sector when we re-open. We're running out of patience. I listened to the Prime Minister's speech and heard it as clear as day, as well as read it.
"That's where we are. We need better communication to be honest with you. Yachts want to come over. It's a beautiful time of year, but they're not going to come over and get harassed any more. The BVI is opening and we have to stay competitive.
"There are a limited number of tourists these days, and everyone wants them," the ABM chief added. "We have to be careful how we treat them. The old attitude of 'I don't care if they come or not' has to stop. Otherwise businesses will be unable to support the Government any more, and that will be the end of it.
"Government needs us, and we need every dollar we can get right now. To find these guys putting another obstacle in our way which we didn't expect, it's very unfortunate."