#Nassau, Bahamas – March 18, 2020 — FULL STATEMENT by Renward Wells, Minister of Transport
Today I wish to report that the humanitarian relief afforded The Bahamas Flag cruise ship Braemar is completed and that the ship has departed Bahamian waters.
I wish to provide a chronology of events regarding this matter in order to fully apprise Bahamians of the sequence of events that led to the resolution of this matter. We were initially advised via email on 11th March, 2020 that the Cruise Ship Braemar was en route to Barbados with confirmed coronavirus cases looking for a port of call to dock. The ship was denied entry into Barbados which was its home port.
The ship entered Bahamian territorial waters on 13th March, 2020, with a crew of 381 and 682 passengers, including citizens from 33 countries. More than 97% of the ship’s passengers were of British nationality, and more than 90% were over 60 years of age.
A few people on board had tested positive for COVID-19, and the ship which had been on a Caribbean itinerary, had already been denied entry into several Caribbean ports, including Barbados.
The owners of the Cruise Ship, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, opened dialogue with The Bahamas, since it was registered under our flag. They also engaged the UK authorities due to the fact that there were hundreds of British citizens on board.
The Bahamas Government’s course of action was to immediately establish an inter-agency team which comprised of representatives of The Office of The Prime Minister, the Ministry of Transport and Local Government, the Bahamas Maritime Authority, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Health, all at the highest level, to set The Bahamas’ policy and establish parameters for this national issue. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Transport and Local Government and Minister of Grand Bahama headed this team, whose remit was to set policies and action points and to interface with the government of the United Kingdom. The Minister of Disaster Management and Reconstruction, Iram Lewis, also offered invaluable advice to the operations’ team.
The ship’s owners requested The Bahamas’ assistance with supplying the vessel with essential medical supplies, provisions and fuel; and also for the disposal of refuse and the disembarkation and repatriation of passengers; which they anticipated would occur at a dock and other facilities in The Bahamas.
The Bahamas Government however, did not allow the ship to dock at a Bahamian port or berth and advised that any discharges from the ship were prohibited in Bahamian waters. Further, we declined to accept any refuse from the ship and did not allow any disembarkation whatsoever and/or repatriation from The Bahamas by any of the passengers – in light of the broader health risks posed.
We did, however, offer to provide humanitarian relief to the ship – without the ship docking at a Bahamian port.
The conditions advised were that this would occur at a location out at sea where the ship could be given aid in an isolated area.
Acting Port Controller, Lieutenant Commander Berne Wright assisted in this endeavor by identifying a temporary safe anchorage site for the ship in a remote area in the Great Isaac Bank, which is some twenty-five (25) nautical miles from Freeport, where the required humanitarian operation could be safely carried out.
Permit me to now provide a more comprehensive and detailed timeline from the cruise ship Braemars arrival to its departure from Bahamian territorial waters.
On Friday 13th March, 2020, the Braemar entered Bahamian territorial waters from the South. The vessel was reported, at the time, to have on board five (5) persons that is; one (1) passenger, and four (4) crew members with confirmed cases of COVID-19, and a number of persons in quarantine with flu-like symptoms. The Bahamas Government’s, inter-agency team held a telephone conference, which was joined in part by the UK High Commissioner, to review possible arrangements.
British Officials requested that a few medical and support personnel and six (6) additional crew members be allowed to embark the ship during The Bahamas’ humanitarian operation. It was made unequivocally clear that no one would disembark the ship in The Bahamas.
Our next course of action was to establish an on-site team for the Freeport and Great Isaac Bank operations. This team was headed by the Acting Port Controller and representatives of the Chief Medical Officer in the persons of Dr. Bartlett and Dr. Hedge (pronounced Heggee) of Freeport; both of whom provided invaluable assistance on the ground.
The ship’s managers were advised of the location of refuge and the conditions for the planned operations were discussed. The ship’s managers provided details of their proposed arrangements for refueling; details of the embarking crew and identification of the local ship’s agents were provided.
The proposed plan was reviewed by the Acting Port Controller and Chief Medical Officer’s representatives, who made amendments to ensure that best safety practices were employed at all times.
Six (6) crew members arrived in Nassau and were cleared in the charge of the ship’s agent who subsequently transferred the crew to Freeport.
The next day, which was Saturday 14th March, 2020, the ship arrived at the identified anchorage and the Acting Port Controller arrived in Freeport to act as the on scene Coordinator for the proposed operation.
The proposed operational plans were further fine-tuned, additional control measures and protocols were also introduced.
On the second day of the plan, Sunday 15th March, 2020, in keeping with the operational plans, the Bahamian tug crew were all fully briefed and provided with appropriate protective gear prior to departure. A barge with the provisions and the ship’s crew members who had flown in, were towed by tug from Freeport to a designated point in the vicinity of the vessel, and anchored at that location.
It is important to note here Mister Speaker, that the provisions were then loaded on to the Braemar by its crew – with no physical contact of any nature between the Bahamian crew and any Braemar personnel. The medical personnel bound for the ship arrived in Freeport after air transfer from Nassau, and the arrangements for the transfer of these persons to the ships were reviewed by the on scene Coordinator and his team with agreed control measures and medical control introduced.
The medical team was transferred to the ship by launch and they boarded without any contact between the ship or the launch’s personnel who had been fully briefed and equipped regarding proper medical protocol.
On the final day of the operation which was Monday 16th March, 2020, the Braemar cruise ship departed Bahamian territorial waters with its full complement of passengers, crew and personnel.
I wish to advise that as a precautionary measure, the barge will remain on its own at anchorage (at sea) for a period of seventy-two (72) hours before The Bahamas medical authorities initiate a complete cleaning and disinfecting process.
I am pleased to also report that the ship’s owners were fully cooperative throughout the operation. Additionally, it is instructive that at all stages of the operation none of the passengers left the ship and there was no contact whatsoever between the ship’s crew and the Bahamian tug or crew.
The success of this aspect of the operation was contingent on the involvement and coordination by Acting Port Controller Lieutenant Commander Berne Wright, with the support and assistance of Captain Dwain Hutchinson and the Bahamas Maritime Authority and the representatives of the Chief Medical Officer.
We are all keenly aware of the devastating impact that this pandemic has had on many countries in the world. We must all acknowledge however, that challenges will continue to abound in combating its spread. Ultimately however, we have to determine what is in the best interest of the Bahamian people. That is paramount. Notwithstanding, we continue to pray for the safe and successful passage and well-being of the passengers and crew of the cruise ship Braemar.
The Government of The Bahamas by way of the Bahamas Maritime Authority will continue to be in constant communication with the owners of the Braemar, and in so doing we will continue to update the Bahamian people as warranted.
In closing, Mr. Speaker, I wish to embrace this opportunity to thank the numerous people who came together, whether hands on, or remotely, to ensure the successful outcome of this operation and invariably for the safety, well-being and best interest of all Bahamians.