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Don’T Blame Us For Beetle Cargo Fiasco: Shipping Agents Say Sub-Contractor Was To Blame For Blunder

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamian shipping agent for a vessel that offloaded wood waste containing an invasive beetle species yesterday pledged to fight impending Customs charges and efforts to make it “a scapegoat”.

Elbert Hepburn, Elnet Maritime’s chief executive, voiced optimism that “we’ll be exonerated with the right investigation” days after multiple government agencies announced a probe into how the Pan Jasmine cargo ship was able to offload infested wood without their approval.

Mr Hepburn blamed a marine logistics service provider Elnet Maritime he says failed to properly inform the Government’s Department of Environmental Health Services.

“We’re confident that with the right investigation and what not we’ll be exonerated and it’ll be looked at for what it is,” Mr Hepburn told Tribune Business of the controversy that has ensnared the shipping agent. “I’m honestly not that concerned because I’m really confident that we can get through this.

“I know to the best of our ability that we followed all the rules and regulations. I never expected any form of communication or letter from Bahamas Customs. I figured that Environmental Health would be the party to come after myself and Lucayan Maritime Services. For Customs to come after us was a shock.”

Mr Hepburn said he had never communicated with, or involved, Customs in the removal of a ship’s dunnage, slop or other waste before as Elnet Maritime’s contacts had always been with the Department of Environmental Health Services or the Port Department.

And, while the shipping agent had facilitated the filing of a C1 declaration that the Pan Jasmine had no ballast or cargo when it arrived in waters off Freeport on Saturday, July 24, no Customs officer had attended the vessel -m something that is common practice.

The Government, in a statement on Friday, confirmed that “no ballast or cargo” was declared on the vessel’s behalf. However, Mr Hepburn said Customs’ July 30 letter is now alleging that the dunnage waste is actually cargo, and that Elnet Maritime “imported in a restricted good” - namely waste wood - even though this is neither on the “restricted list” or the Pan Jasmine’s cargo manifest.

“They [Customs] gave us a list. I didn’t review it at all. I gave it to my lawyer,” he disclosed. “Bahamas Customs sent us a letter on Friday with a slew of various charges, which we intend to fight through ParrisWhittaker. The charges are saying we had cargo we didn’t declare, but it was dunnage we had to dispose of.

“Mr Darville [of Save the Bays] raised the alarm on Thursday, and I had a one-two minute conversation with Customs on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon they had a slew of charges. We’re trying to figure out what type of investigation was done.

“They were being reactive rather than proactive and finding a solution. They want to find a scapegoat. We’re not going to allow them to make us a scapegoat. We understands where this operation has gone wrong. Had Lucayan Maritime Services done their due diligence, this operation would more than likely still have taken place” with the necessary approvals from the relevant government agencies.

Mr Hepburn suggested that the Government was looking to pin the blame for the controversy on someone, and that Elnet Maritime as a Bahamas-based company and shipping agent represented an easy target in efforts to appease persons over the controversy.

Voicing optimism that the Asian beetles had been incinerated and destroyed, and pose no threat to Grand Bahama’s forestry product and landscape that is still trying to recover from Dorian’s ravages, Mr Hepburn said the disposal of ship slops (oils), dunnage and other waste had long been part of Freeport’s maritime industry.

With trash often amounting to as much as 10-15 cubic metres, he added that such disposals were regular work features for shipping agents and their sub-contractors plus their sub-contractors. And Mr Hepburn said they were dealing with materials “rejected by the United States) on every single occasion.

“This happens every week. No one makes a big deal about it, but because Joe Darville and a few activists got up in arms about it the Government feels they need to respond,” one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told this newspaper.

Mr Hepburn said Elnet Maritime was contacted to act as the Pan Jasmine’s agent by its owner/operators when it had to bunker or refuel in Freeport. He was asked “en route” if the dunnage could be taken off in Freeport, and contracted Lucayan Maritime Services to perform this task.

The sub-contractor was supposed to obtain the necessary approvals, and make arrangements, with both the Department of Environmental Health Services (DEHS) and Sanitation Services. However, it only did so with the latter so the dunnage could be dumped in the landfill.

The Pan Jasmine arrived off Freeport on Saturday, July 24, and departed on the Monday. Mr Hepburn said he only became aware of the Asian beetle incident three days later on July 29 following the voice notes and messages being issued by Mr Darville.

He responded by apologising to DEHS official, Bertha McPhee-Duncanson, and followed up with Sanitation Services to ensure the wood was properly disposed of and destroyed. However, Mr Hepburn has yet to speak to Lucayan Maritime Services given that there is now an investigation ongoing.

He added that laws and regulations regarding the disposal of ships’ waste will now be strengthened following this incident. “As a result of this there will be some changes in the industry by people who want to prevent this from happening,” Mr Hepburn predicted.

The Government, in its statement, said “an inter-agency committee” featuring the Department of Public Prosecutions, Bahamas Customs, the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Department of Environmental Health Services, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, the Office of the Prime Minister, the Department of Forestry, had been formed to investigate the matter.

“The suspected dunnage was offloaded without the prior knowledge, consent or approval of the relevant government agencies including Bahamas Customs, the Department of Environmental Health Services and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources,” the statement said.

“Once the various government agencies became aware that the cargo was at the landfill the following steps were immediately taken. A private company was hired to fumigate two remaining bins at the site and the surrounding area as well as the barge that transported the dunnage from the vessel to shore.

“All of the dunnage was fumigated at the landfill along with other debris that was in the immediate vicinity. This was under the immediate supervision of the Department of Environmental Health Services, the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, Royal Bahamas Police Fire Department, and the leadership team of Sanitation Services,” it continued.

“After the fumigation process, the incineration is being carried out of the dunnage. The team identified all bins that were used to transport the dunnage and fumigation of these bins have commenced. The Bahamas government takes this breach of its laws and procedures seriously, and will pursue this matter to the fullest extent of the law. An investigation is presently underway.”

Comments

DWW 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Sounds like someones been benefitting from some "Dirty" business for a long time and now the cows come home to roost?

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licks2 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Nah. . .das rich!! The COWS come home to roost?? I do think the Bahamian has one of the most "quick" minds in the world when we get ready to be critical!! Hahahahahahahahahahaha. . .

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 3 weeks ago

"This happens every week. No one makes a big deal about it, but because Joe Darville and a few activists got up in arms about it the Government feels they need to respond,”

If only we knew this person, they need to be fined. This is is exactly the reason this happened. We have no idea of the impact of the risks we take. If every tree in this person's yard died from this beetle's foraging they might begin to get it through their dull mind. God only knows what else THEY have let pass through with their dullardness

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ThisIsOurs 3 months, 3 weeks ago

"The suspected dunnage was offloaded without the prior knowledge, consent or approval of the relevant government agencies including Bahamas Customs, the Department of Environmental Health Services and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources,” the statement said."

Please, as if any rules were ever followed

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dwanderer 3 months, 3 weeks ago

"Mr Hepburn said the disposal of ship slops (oils), dunnage and other waste had long been part of Freeport’s maritime industry...And Mr Hepburn said they were dealing with materials “rejected by the United States) on every single occasion."

This is alarming to find out that materials 'rejected by the USA' are regularly dumped here. Could this be a contributing factor to the high rate of cancer on Grand Bahama?

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KapunkleUp 3 months, 3 weeks ago

100% of the blame here goes to Customs. The very reason for their existence is to inspect and stop illegal items from entering our country.

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tribanon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

And of course Customs wants to conduct the investigation because they know full well that they too should be subject to investigation for having failed to enforce the laws they are mandated to enforce. This incident would not have happened had Customs done its job for the Bahamian people. Heads should roll, but instead the powers that be will be working overtime to cover up the government's gross negligence in this matter.

Meanwhile Minnis is comforted knowing the public's tizzy over this outrageous incident will quickly evaporate when the next crisis comes along to distract and divert their feeble minds.

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tribanon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Elbert Hepburn would be giving the same lame 'scapegoat defense' if the illegally unloaded and undeclared contraband cargo had been thousands of kilos of cocaine instead of thousands of voracious beetles.

The entire defense he puts forward for the many laws that were ignored and violated by his employer and the ships owner/operator is predicated on the very flawed maxim: "Others do it all the time, so what's wrong with us doing it too?"

In the meantime, Minnis, Pintard, Ferreira, AG Bethel, etc., are all saying to themselves: "This little tizzy by the plebes we govern will soon come to pass because thankfully their feeble memory is only as good as the crisis du jour."

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BMW 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Excuses, I call BS, they should know !! Ignorance is not a defence they know what was going on!!.

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BMW 3 months, 3 weeks ago

On top of this is the fact that the ship was rejected by the US because of the dunnage, this should have raised alot of red flags

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John 3 months, 3 weeks ago

The captain is ultimately responsible. He is supposed to know what his ship is carrying and its itinerary. He will have known his ship was rejected and turned away from US ports. the ship should have been held, the captain charged and hefty fines levied. Then those with authority both locally and elsewhere should receive similar fate. Either for collusion, dereliction of duty or both.

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One 3 months, 3 weeks ago

The Bahamas doesn't possess resources and technology superior to the USA to accept and process materials they reject. The only thing we have is less regulation and protection of our environment and people.

These are short-term economic decisions that are reckless for our future. Even if we don't care about the environmental effects what about when our ports are blacklisted because of the risk of ships becoming infested with all of the exotic bugs we've allowed in our country? What resources will we have to sterilize and restore industry confidence in our ports?

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sage 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Thee appears to be a bigger issue at play here: we are the dump of last resort according to Mr. Hepburn.
With all the intelligence we have, we appear to lack the ability to be forward thinkers. We have folks with many degrees...but it appears that they lack the ability to anticipate and take steps to PREVENT disaster... not just to react.

When will this ship of fools ever grow up ....? Each day... the actions of authorities give me pause...and I cringe at the many fumbles ..bumbles...and errors we keep making!

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birdiestrachan 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Grand Bahama is the dumping ground. are the environmental agencies aware of this or was it all right??

No doubt some of the beetles got away. it is my hope they will be able to control them.

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proudloudandfnm 3 months, 3 weeks ago

This is 100% on the government. Ellie is right this happens all the time and government agencies never get involved. We routinely take in wood packaging and pallets that have been denies by other countries for not being in compliance with ISPM 15 and we routinely offload trash and dunnage from ships with little to no protocols.

Its a good thing this has been exposed now its time for government to establish proper protocols...

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Bobsyeruncle 3 months, 3 weeks ago

What's Mr Hepburn's background and experience? I seem to remember an article not so long ago in either The Tribune, or Freeport News, where he was discussing the startup of his new business, Elnet Maritime.

Also, as John pointed out in an earlier post, the Captain of the ship must surely have known what he was carrying. Why would he risk his, or his company's reputation, license & a corresponding huge fine. Not to mention the fact that he should know all the required regulations & protocols, when docking in a foreign country. I definitely think there is a lot more of this story to unfold, although my guess is it will be swept under the table by government & customs in a couple of weeks. Hope I'm wrong.

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tribanon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Now that government has announced an investigation, this story is over, period. After all, we all know what comes of government announced investigations - Absolutely Nada!

I believe this was the nine-hundred and ninety-ninth (999th) investigation the failed Minnis led FNM administration has announced since assuming the reins of government in May 2017. LMAO

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licks2 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Reading "between the lines" indicates that Hepburn is slimmy" as a bucket of raw Aloes! For example, FP collects waste from ships all the time. . .but not highly contaminated waste. . .especially those such as the Asian beetle! That ship first said that they had on ballast. . .ballast of wood. . .wood that could be contaminated with the Asian Bettle? I know that ship ballast is normally sea water pumped into ballast tanks for just that reason. . .stability for empty bulk carriers!! So even my grammy would have asked the ship. . ."YOU GAT WOOD FOR BALLAST. . .WHAT HAPPENED TO YA BALLAST PUMPS"? "THAT CRAZY TAIL CAPTIAN DON'T KNOW BULK CARRIES USE WATER AS BALLAST WHEN THEY ARE EMPTY. . .WHAT HE MEAN BY WOOD FOR BALLAST"?

So what did they say? We are coming into GB with a load of wood for ballast and will offload for fumigation and burning? Then what "they ger use" for ballast when they left for home? Sea water? Mr. Hepburn sound full er "that thing" that come from the back end of my lil dog!! His story don't make sense. . .a ship that normally use water for ballast when empty. . .uses wood only until they reach the Bahamas. . .then fill up with water for ballast to leave GB to go home?

I don't believe that bringing contaminated Asian pine suspected to be full of the Beetle. . .which means they were receiveing that type of wood for long times!! With joe darville them right under their noses? Child please. . .they were trying to "swing" us this time with them beetles. . .for how much money. . .lets wait and see??

This man is going to jail. . .and somebody will have to pay plenty money!!! But then. . .if he is FNM. . .yinna know wha ger happen!! Don't let him be a PLP. . .he even een ger be charged!! Brave don't ever. . .I mean ever. . . hold any PLP responsible for any wrong they do. . .ever!!! Chile please!!

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tribanon 3 months, 3 weeks ago

Elbert Hepburn, Elnet Maritime’s chief executive, voiced optimism that “we’ll be exonerated with the right investigation” days after multiple government agencies announced a probe into how the Pan Jasmine cargo ship was able to offload infested wood without their approval.

In other words, Hepburn seems very comforted in knowing that the cabinet minister who likely has an interest in his highly profitable dunnage disposal business will give him plenty of political protection. LOL

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