Minister of Transport & Local Government on discharges from cruise ships operating in Bahamian waters

Protecting the Environment of The Bahamas

The Government is acutely aware of media reports relating to cruise ships engaged in operational discharges within Bahamian waters.

Some of these reports stem from the ongoing United States investigation into recent discharges from Carnival Cruise Line ships.  We recently learned of similar discharges from a Norwegian Cruise Line vessel, which was voluntarily reported to The Bahamas Maritime Authority (BMA) by Norwegian Cruise Line. Consequently, we are actively in touch with all other major lines that operate vessels within our waters.

I wish to report to the Bahamian People your Government’s actions regarding such discharges within The Bahamas.  My reference is not only to discharges that may have occurred, but to the ongoing measurement and monitoring of any environmental impact related thereto and the systematized reporting of any such discharges going forward. However, most importantly – I wish to assure you of the proactive policing and prevention of future incidents.

I wish to report that my ministry is in close consultation with the Attorney General’s office and with the Ministry of Environment in this regard.

Let me make one thing clear, and in doing so emphatically state that, we will defend our environmental sovereignty. Those who have breached our environmental laws will be made to account. The pristine lands and waters of The Bahamas is the inheritance of our People.  It belongs to all Bahamians -- to all of you, and to future generations of our beautiful nation.

Permit me to now advise of the proactive, comprehensive measures that we are taking:

(1)    We widely circulated the strict definition of our territorial waters as far as ANY discharges at sea are concerned.  We drew, as a nation, in the Archipelagic and Territories Act, a line around our entire Archipelago, and we advised the cruise industry, and all international shipping, that anything inside this line constitutes the territorial waters of The Bahamas. We absolutely prohibited any discharges at sea within this boundary – even discharges that are considered safe by other countries.  We will not permit – and we will not tolerate – any discharges at sea within the waters of our Commonwealth.

(2)     We are closely working, with the help of The Bahamas Maritime Authority, The BMA, to ensure that we are in close communication with all of the major cruise lines.  They have provided us access to ship’s records and personnel, those on ships and those ashore and with their cooperation, we are developing a broad database of potential past discharge locations along major routes.  We are running trajectories based on prevailing currents, and we are identifying all locations in which environmental measurements and assessments should be carried out.

(3)    Efforts are being made to rapidly access all key locations in our Archipelago and sample and analyze data (a) to determine any remedial action needed, and (b) to assure absolute safety. Subsequently, premised on this information, we will produce baseline data from many thousands of data points, and we will follow any evolution of quality over time.  We will look to the cruise industry to fund these on-going studies, as necessary; as well as funding the cost of remediation of any environmental damage found.

(4)    In partnership with the BMA, we strengthen the approval of protocols for safe shipboard procedure and the rules for reporting and inspection for all vessels that ply our waters.

(5)    We established clear lines of reporting of any incidents or the risk thereof – to The Bahamas Maritime Authority -- for all vessels under The Bahamian Flag; and to a national reporting hotline for all other vessels within our waters.

(6)    In terms of national legislation, your Government recently passed The Environmental Planning and Protection Act of 2019.  This landmark legislation will provide the nucleus of modern national environmental policy and regulation.  As it relates to the maritime sector, our new Merchant Shipping Bill, which is at a very advanced stage of preparation, will incorporate state-of-the-art regulations for the shipboard control of all manner of pollution from ships.  These Acts do more than just legislate and regulate conduct; they also modernize and improve our country’s ability to hold wrongdoers to account, and to apply appropriate penalties when required.

(7)    Our international maritime regulator, The Bahamas Maritime Authority, is also active in this effort.  The BMA is designating a Deputy Director, who will have  specific responsibility for environmental affairs.  He or she will not only be active in the regulation of Bahamas Flag carriers, but will also advise Bahamas Flag ship-owners regarding the correct interpretation and implementation of complex national and international environmental law and regulations.

Your Government is moving forward on behalf of The People of The Bahamas to tighten, monitor and enforce our environmental law and protections across the Board: including but not limited to Prohibition; Identification and Testing; Shipboard Procedure; Reporting; Regulation and Enforcement. We will ensure strict compliance at all times. Your Government will leave, as a legacy to our People, the elements of a modern, effective, comprehensive mechanism for safeguarding our uniquely beautiful environment.  We will keep you advised of our progress.

The Hon. Renward Wells

Minister of Transport and Local Government

February 5, 2020

Commonwealth of The Bahamas