By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE Bahamas Government has launched an investigation into the offloading of wood reportedly infested with an invasive beetle by a Panama-registered cargo vessel at Grand Bahama last week.
The infested wood was taken to the Pineridge Landfill in Freeport where it was fumigated and burned, according to a press statement released by the Government through Bahamas Information Services.
It was reported that the wood “was offloaded without the prior knowledge, consent or approval” of the relevant Bahamian authorities.
Several government agencies and the Police are investigating the circumstances concerning any breach of the country’s laws and procedures regarding the incident that occurred on July 24 when the Pan Jasmine cargo vessel arrived.
Environmental activist Joseph Darville brought the matter to the public’s attention and expressed outrage after he learned the cargo vessel was allowed to offload wood allegedly infested with an Asian beetle that destroys crops and trees.
Prior to arrival in Grand Bahama, the Pan Jasmine was initially banned by US Federal Agents near New Orleans from entering the US after officials discovered that the cargo of wood was infested.
The vessel departed US waters on July 21 enroute to Freeport for wood service disposal.
A statement issued by BIS indicated that on July 24 the Customs Department was made aware that a ship entered the territorial waters and declared in ballast or no cargo.
“Based on information received an investigation has been launched by an inter-agency committee made up of the Department of Public Prosecutions, Bahama 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 Grand Bahama, the Department of Forestry, and the Department Environmental Planning and Protection concerning the offloading of suspected unidentified insect infestation of dunnage or rough wood used for packaging that was offloaded at a location near the Freeport Harbour and transported to the Pineridge Landfill.
“The suspected dunnage was offloaded without the prior knowledge, consent or approval of the relevant Government Agencies, including the Bahamas Customs, the Department Environmental Health Services and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources.”
It was noted steps were taken once the various government agencies became aware that the cargo was at the landfill.
Firstly, 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.
Secondly, all 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 the Sanitation Services.
Thirdly, after the fumigation process the incineration was carried out of the dunnage; and fourthly, the team identified all bins that were used to transport the dunnage and fumigation of the bins were conducted.
“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,” the statement read.
Mr Darville, chairman of Save the Bays environmental group, expressed concern about The Bahamas becoming a dumping ground for harmful materials.
“How can something like that happen in a modern city like Freeport? Who allowed them to offload that stuff?” he asked.
“This is unbelievable. I hope whatever authorities in this country would get onto that immediately.”