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Bahamas gets timeline and assistance update on COVID-19 plagued Cruise Ship, Braemer

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#Nassau, Bahamas – March 18, 2020 — FULL STATEMENT by Renward Wells, Minister of Transport

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

From The Bahamas Ministry of Health

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

Mister Speaker;

      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.

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U.S. Supports the RBPF With Additional Crime Fighting Vehicles on The Bahamas’ “Road to 50”

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#TheBahamas, January 31, 2023 – Since 1973, the United States and The Bahamas have enjoyed a long-lasting security partnership.  To mark this valued friendship, the United States Government, on January 31, 2023, renewed its support for the Royal Bahamas Police Force (RBPF) with 20 new Ford Police Inceptor Hybrid SUVs valuing nearly $1.4 million.  The United States’ Chargé d’Affaires Usha Pitts; Prime Minister, the Hon. Philip Davis; Minister of National Security, the Hon. Wayne Munroe and RBPF Commissioner Clayton Fernander were on hand for the donation at RBPF East Hill Street Headquarters.

The 20 hybrid vehicles will be added to the 32 vehicles previously donated to the RBPF by the US government to help replace crucial infrastructure lost during Hurricane Dorian.  Recovering from a hurricane is an arduous process that requires support at many levels, from roads and housing to mental health services.  The U.S. government hopes these vehicles will contribute to one key step in the process: citizen security.  These vehicles will not only assist the RBPF’s efforts to combat crime but will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the islands.

In her remarks Chargé Pitts noted, “these vehicles are just one example of the United States’ continued efforts to help for The Bahamas’ keep its citizens and visitors safe.”

Prime Minister Philip Davis showed his appreciation for this timely vehicle donation as it will assist with added capacity and increased saturation patrols on the streets.  The Prime Minister added that residents will notice an increased police presence and the police will have new capacity to respond quickly to any criminal activity.

RBPF Commissioner Clayton Fernander highlighted that “we have noticeably taken more illegal firearms and ammunition off our streets in 2022.  We have also seized more illegal drugs including marijuana and marijuana plants than in [previous] years.  Suffice to say, we have efficiently utilized all 32 vehicles previously donated by the U.S. government in our crime fighting efforts.”

In recent years, the U.S. Government, through U.S. Embassy Nassau, has delivered more than $25 million to assist The Bahamas with efforts to fight crime.  On behalf of the Bahamian people, Minister of National Security Wayne Munroe extended his gratitude for the U.S. government’s assistance noting “It seems that when we’re together there [is] always an occasion where they [U.S. government] have helped us and assisted us substantially.”

Captions: Credited to U.S. Embassy Nassau

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Minister of Health & Wellness thanks Cuban nurses for their service during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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#TheBahamas, January 31, 2023 – An appreciation ceremony was held at SuperClubs Breezes resort, January 30, 2023, to thank the remaining cohort of nurses from the Republic of Cuba who joined the cadre of healthcare workers at the Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH) to assist in the delivery of hospital services and patient care in face of the impact of COVID-19.
The cohort originally comprised 42 nurses who started their duties on Monday, January 24, 2022. The ceremony was attended by some 25 remaining nurses.
 
Minister of Health and Wellness the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville thanked the Cuban Ambassador, His Excellency Julio Cesar Gonzalez Marchante, on behalf of the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues, for Cuba’s response to the call for help from the Bahamas Government.
 
“You came to us in one of our most dangerous moments. You came to us in the heat of the Delta Variant when many of our brothers and sisters lost their lives as a result of COVID,” Minister Darville said.
“At the time that I went to Cuba, we had about 100 nurses in our healthcare system who were out as a result of COVID, while the developed world was recruiting our nurses left, right and centre.”
 
He also noted that at that time The Bahamas could not even get vaccines.
 
“We are a Small Island Developing State. The world was hoarding the vaccines to developed countries and our population was very vulnerable because we did not have access to what the developed world had.”
 
Minister Darville said, “But we had a friend 100 miles to the south of us who came to our rescue. You came to us at our most vulnerable moment. For that as a country, Your Excellency, we will forever be grateful to the Republic of Cuba.”
 
The Minister noted that the nurses’ services were so exemplary and needed, the contract, which was originally for three months, was extended to one-year. Despite this, he said it was time for the nurses to return home to their loved ones.
However, he explained that the relationship between the two countries has not ended as he is in negotiations with the Republic of Cuba for bringing in some additional biomedical engineers, physicians, respiratory therapists and HVAC specialists.
 
 
PHOTO CAPTION – Minister of Health and Wellness the Hon. Dr. Michael Darville thanked the nurses from the Republic of Cuba for bolstering the country’s healthcare system during the COVID-19 Pandemic, during an appreciation ceremony at SuperClubs Breezes, Monday, January 30, 2023.
 
(BIS Photos/Patrick Hanna)

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The Ministry of Tourism, Investments & Aviation on Visitor Arrivals

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#TheBahamas, January 30, 2023 – The Ministry of Tourism is extremely excited to announce that visitor arrivals to The Bahamas eclipsed seven million in 2022, signaling a return to pre-pandemic tourism numbers.
In total 7,000,706 visitors came to The Bahamas in 2022.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Investments, and Aviation Chester Cooper praised The Bahamas’ performance and the work put in by industry professionals across the board.

“The fact that we have exceeded expectations and attracted more than 7 million visitors to our country in 2022, something only done once before in a single year was no accident,” he said.

“Countless stakeholders in the Bahamian tourism industry, including our international partners, worked tirelessly to achieve this. We sought to strengthen relationships to open new air routes. We sought to make travel to The Bahamas easier, more accessible, and affordable and took the message that we were open for business during our Missions and provided insight on our wonderful offerings to the world.”

DPM Cooper forecasted that 2023 promises to shatter even pre-pandemic numbers as interest in the Bahamas and our brand reputation have never been stronger.

“According to statistics the second half of 2022 outperformed the second half of 2019,” he said. In 2022, 1,470,244 visitors came to our shores by air; another 5,530,462 visitors arrived by sea.

Nassau and Grand Bahama remained our most popular destinations by air, while Nassau and The Berry Islands remained our most popular destinations by sea.  Foreign air and sea arrivals for 2022 were up by 233 percent over the same period in 2021 and just 3.4 percent shy of record arrivals in 2019.  December 2022 saw total arrivals eclipse 900,000 visitors, more than any month in our history.  Cruise arrivals in 2022 increased by nearly 400 percent over 2021 and were less than 1 percent below 2019 cruise arrivals.

Air and cruise arrivals monthly from July to December 2022 surpassed the corresponding month in 2019.
Occupancy rates for 2022 eclipsed occupancy rates for every corresponding month in 2021.

The average daily room rate in 2022 outperformed that category for every corresponding month in 2021. The Bahamas carved out new ground with more than 55 percent of first-time arrivals to The Bahamas, with increases in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

DPM Cooper confirmed that the last six months are the strongest The Bahamas has ever seen.  He firmly concluded by saying; “What the Ministry of Tourism, Investments, and Aviation are forecasting so far and what forward bookings indicate, is that we are on track to break records in 2023. We don’t see this slowing down anytime soon.”

Mrs. Latia Duncombe, Director General of Tourism added that everyone should understand that tourism is critical to our economy and all Bahamians, even those who do not directly work in the tourism industry, should always seek to lift the industry up.

“We are all in the tourism business in The Bahamas. And it’s a great business to be in. We want to keep our brand fresh and evergreen. And that’s everyone’s job, especially mine. I have a great, hardworking team at our ministry and we have some incredible things in store this year.”

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