By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Tribune Chief Reporter
A MAJOR cruise line has said it is unaware of any issues with its ships related to allegations of seabed and marine life damage caused by vessels sheltering in Bahamian waters near the Berry Islands.
In a statement to The Tribune yesterday, Roger Frizzell, Carnival’s senior vice president & chief communications officer, said while the corporation was not aware of issues in this regard, the cruise line is committed to the protection of ecological habitats.
“We are not aware of any such issue with our ships. We file daily ship plans with the Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) and closely follow our stated plans,” Mr Frizzell said. “We do not use restricted areas.
“Our top priorities are compliance, environmental protection and the health, safety and welfare of our guests and crew members, along with the destinations we visit. We are committed to working with Bahamian officials to further the protection of ecological habitats and will continue to cooperate fully in this effort.”
Carnival said it has 10 ships in the area, but none of its vessels are in the Berry Islands’ waters.
The government has not named any cruise line as responsible for the seabed damage. However, a marine vessel tracking website, marinetraffic.com currently shows several vessels anchored near Great Harbour Cay.
Several Celebrity ships are positioned nearest to that cay, while several other Carnival ships are nearby, according to that website.
Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, parent company of Celebrity Cruises, also insisted its ships were in compliance.
In a statement to The Tribune last night, the company said: “Royal Caribbean Group has a strong commitment to environmental stewardship built on a culture of adherence to strict company policies, practices and regulations and a focus on continuous improvement. We are aware that unconfirmed claims have been made related to possible sea floor damage involving vessel activity in the vicinity of the Berry Islands in The Bahamas.
“We have conducted a complete review of the documentation for vessels sheltering in the waters of The Bahamas as well as our associated policies to reaffirm that we are in compliance and also to identify opportunities for further enhancements. We have communicated with our marine operations teams to reinforce the importance of the safety and environmental requirements needed to operate our vessels in Bahamian waters.
“As a vested Bahamas tourism partner, we share and understand concerns regarding any potential environmental impact to the country’s marine resources and will cooperate fully with authorities in order to effectively assess the situation and develop further preventative action as necessary.”
Damage to marine life and the seabed was brought to light on Sunday when the government released a statement confirming an investigation into the situation was underway.
According to a joint statement from Minister of Agriculture Michael Pintard and Minister of the Environment Romauld Ferreira on Sunday, an initial dive, while limited in scope, showed significant damage to the marine environment allegedly caused by ship anchors.
The statement said a team was urgently putting together a comprehensive assessment to determine the extent of the damage and quantify the value of the damage and the potential remediation costs. Steps are also being taken, the ministers said, to determine gaps that existed in standard operating procedures, policies or legislation that allowed this situation to occur and engage those responsible so that they take corrective actions.
The statement noted that over the last few days the ministries responsible for marine resources and the environment were made aware of possible damage to the marine environment due to vessels sheltering in Bahamian territory.
“The alarming claims prompted various government ministries and agencies to meet, discuss and determine the accuracy of the claims and to formulate an emergency plan of action in the event such claims were accurate,” the ministers said.
Following this revelation, local environmental watchdogs said they want the government’s investigation into the alleged damage by cruise ships to be “quick” and “public”.
Groups reEarth and Save the Bays made the appeal on Monday.
Sam Duncombe, speaking on behalf of the groups, said even with the cruise ship industry closed, the Bahamian people and marine environment continue to suffer.
In a statement Monday she said: “Even with the cruise industry shut down, the environment of the Bahamas is being degraded and its people harmed. We are now part of a global network of citizen groups in countries worldwide demanding an end to ‘business as usual’. In the Bahamas, we are calling for an environmental impact assessment so we can make smart decisions about how to restart the industry in the coming years.
“We support the pledge last week of Prime Minister Minnis to ‘build back better’ after Dorian and hopefully now after COVID, but we must not do so blindly. Let’s take six months, employ the best local and international experts, share initial findings, and consult with the public. Then the government can chart a course towards an economic recovery that it is sustainable,” she added.
In her statement, Ms Duncombe said local fishermen describe the damage as equivalent to a “bulldozer” driving across the ocean floor.
According to Ms Duncombe, on September 4, Eric Carey, executive director of the Bahamas National Trust, received a voice note from fishermen in the Berry Islands reporting significant damage to the seafloor from cruise ships’ massive anchors and chains dragging across the seabed.
Two miles west of Little Stirrup renamed Coco Cay, a private cruise port operated by Royal Caribbean, there are 15-18 cruise ships anchored in Bahamian waters spaced two to three miles apart, the fishermen have said, adding the anchors are dragging along the seafloor and the ships have to be repositioned, she said.