Atlantis concern over cruise line’s PI environment impact


Tribune Business Reporter


AN ATLANTIS executive says the Paradise Island mega resort has concerns over how Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines (RCCL) plans to mitigate any environmental risks resulting from its proposed Beach Club project.

Vaughn Roberts, Atlantis’ senior vice-president of government affairs and special projects, confirmed to Tribune Business that the resort has reservations about the cruise line’s plan to develop the western portion of Paradise Island in the Colonial Beach area.

He added, though, that it has no position on the dispute playing out between Bahamian entrepreneur, Toby Smith, and the Government and Royal Caribbean over the former’s leasing of Crown Land to facilitate renovation of the Paradise Island lighthouse and his own ‘beach break’ destination.

Mr Roberts said: “I think we’re obviously closely watching how it all plays out, and certainly we were very supportive of the lighthouse being restored. We would like to also see anything that’s done there be done in a very environmentally responsible way.

“So we know that there are coral reefs there, we know that there has to be other environmental habitats there. So we just want to make sure it’s all done in a responsible way. Cruise lines have reports of dumping in the ocean and stuff. We’re not saying Royal Caribbean is guilty, but there have obviously been incidents in the past. We just haven’t seen enough of Royal Caribbean’s plans to know how they’re going to mitigate any risks.”

Mr Roberts’ comments came after the chief justice, Sir Ian Winder, last week ruled that Mr Smith did not have a valid, legally binding lease from the Government for the two Crown Land parcels he was seeking for his project. This was because the minister then-responsible for Crown Lands, ex-prime minister, Dr Hubert Minnis, did not execute the necessary paperwork by applying his signature.

Mr Smith had based much of his three-year legal fight on a January 7, 2020, letter from Richard Hardy, acting director of the Department of Lands and Surveys, which was headlined “approval for Crown Land lease” over the two tracts he wanted. These covered a two and three-acre parcel, respectively, and included the lighthouse at Paradise Island’s western end and a ‘beach break’ destination in the Colonial Beach area.

The Bahamian entrepreneur signed the lease forwarded by Mr Hardy, and returned it to the Government for execution by the minister responsible for Crown Lands, who was then Dr Minnis. The latter, though, did not sign the lease on the Government’s behalf as it emerged that Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines had rival designs on two of the Crown Land acres also sought by Mr Smith for its own $110m Royal Beach Club project.

Mr Smith has always maintained that, as a Bahamian entrepreneur, he was shoved aside to make way for a major foreign investor even though he had received his approvals and allegedly-binding Crown Land leases first. The chief justice’s decision now potentially paves the way for Royal Caribbean to move ahead with its Royal Beach Club project on Paradise Island’s western end if it - and the Government - so choose.

Campbell Cleare, the McKinney, Bancroft & Hughes attorney and partner, who is representing Royal Caribbean on its Paradise Island ambitions, told Tribune Business he was unable to confirm if the Supreme Court judgment has cleared the way for his client to proceed. “I don’t know the answer to that question. There may be something in the judgment that prohibits that,” he responded.

“I haven’t had a chance to read the judgment. I really couldn’t answer that right now. Once I read it and take instructions from my client I will be in a position to answer that.” One option for Mr Smith is to appeal the verdict to the Court of Appeal, which would at least keep the disputed Crown Land in litigation for a little while yet.

Another Paradise Island business owner, speaking under condition of anonymity, said of Royal Caribbean’s project: “If they’re going to do this it’s going to take away a lot of business from people who are in this industry. For the taxi drivers and people who have a chance to come to Paradise Island, they will not come any more because the cruise ship is going to sell their packages directly.

“Royal Caribbean is going to suck business out of Paradise Island. The thing is nobody is going to want to stay on Paradise Island or even downtown, and Royal Caribbean is just going to take all of their guests to their side of the island. Lots of people are going to lose their jobs, too.

“Sure, Royal Caribbean is going to create jobs on the other side, but if somebody has been in the business for the past 15 years and that is their bread and butter, then they will come on and take this over and affect our bread and butter.”

However, Wesley Ferguson, president of the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union, backed Royal Caribbean’s plans. “This is a win-win for the people because, like I said previously, Royal Caribbean will put in programmes and plans for that property and it will definitely benefit the poor Bahamian people that are in the tourism industry,” he argued. “It will also inadvertently create new opportunities for those who wish to go into the service industry.”

Rebutting the environmental concerns, and fears of job losses elsewhere if Royal Caribbean moves forward with their plans, Mr Ferguson added that “not everybody is going to agree” but argued that the majority of smaller tourism operators will benefit more from the cruise line’s project than Mr Smith’s.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.