EIGHT MILE ROCK, Grand Bahama, The Bahamas — Minister of Transport and Housing, the Hon. Jobeth Coleby-Davis told boaters of Grand Bahama that the maritime industry in Grand Bahama is of special importance to her ministry.
Unlike any other island in The Bahamas, Minister Coleby-Davis says Grand Bahama demonstrates a wide range of maritime engagement, where some of the largest ships in the world have been handled and serviced successfully.
“And there is also huge potential for the blue economy to advance here,” she added. “The island of Grand Bahama is geographically positioned to facilitate secure transport to the western hemisphere, thus making Freeport a regular port of call. In addition to this, the local maritime industry is ripe with the opportunities for commercial boating, yachting and water sport activities.”
Minister Coleby-Davis was in Grand Bahama, March 13, 2023 where she led a town hall meeting on “boating industry concerns” for boaters, fishers and pleasure craft operators on the island, at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Eight Mile Rock. The meeting drew a crowd of boaters, fishermen and boating tour operators from West Grand Bahama, Freeport and as far as East Grand Bahama.
Minister Coleby-Davis was delighted by the turn out and encouraged those who had attended to use the opportunity to express their concerns, ask questions and even make suggestions. But before opening the town hall meeting to hear those concerns, she outlined the purpose behind the meeting.
“I want to say that I know how significant the maritime industry is to the Grand Bahama community and to assure you that I am committed to providing the tools necessary to inform and equip you to take advantage of what this industry has to offer,” she told those who had filled the Baptist church.
“Bearing all of this in mind, one of the key points I wish to emphasize tonight is that my priority is always safety. We achieve this in a number of ways, including licensing commercial and private vessels, annual vessel inspections, examination and certification of boat captains and initiatives such as this (town hall meeting) to educate the public on our expectations.”
The Minister pointed out that, for the most part, many of the people at the meeting were responsible boat operators, given the fact that they showed up to the meeting hoping to not only express their concerns, but to offer some solutions or ideas to make the industry a better one in Grand Bahama.
However, she acknowledged the fact that there are some who may be undeterred in breaking some of the rules, either deliberately or ignorantly. Therefore, she said the task by her ministry, as well as those “good” boat operators, is to inform and educate the other boat operators to “do what is right” and to get onboard with ensuring the safety of all involved within the industry.
“We want to ensure that everyone who is connected to the boating industry or to the maritime sector, that you all take advantage of being in these sorts of settings, where you have the opportunity to ask questions, to raise concerns and make a case for your industry,” said Minister Coleby-Davis.
“If there are issues and concerns from our end, we want to fix them, because it’s always a partnership. It doesn’t matter that we are the regulators. We issue you a license so that you will be able to have some sort of living, because for many of you, this is your source of living. Even though we are the regulators, as the government, we’re also your partners to make sure that you are able to get it right and to do it properly.
“These sorts of settings and meetings are important for us to hear your concerns and for you to raise your questions, so that we can work together to address them, so that there can be safety and due care in the boating and maritime industry.”
Minister Coleby-Davis said the importance for the interaction between boaters and regulators has begun to increase as the country continues to open up even more since being closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It is getting even more exciting because in some way, life seems to be getting back to normal,” she added. “So, in getting back to normal we have to wake everybody up and remind them about safety. In the summer, we want to have good results, good reports.
“We expect that we will have a lively and fruitful and busy maritime industry. But coupled with that, we want to make sure that safety is a priority. We want to make sure that fathers, husbands, uncles and brothers return home to their families safely after going out on the water. We want to make sure that where there is an issue or concern, you raise it with us so that we can hear it, consider it and fix it where possible.”
Those who showed up for the town hall meeting were not shy in expressing their concerns about the industry, articulating some issues they have with the regulators and even making suggestions on how the government could do more to help the maritime industry become more flexible and profitable, not just in the west, but throughout the entire island of Grand Bahama.
Some of the main concerns included the construction of more boat ramps in the eastern and western communities of the island; suggesting that the government could help provide some safety equipment for those boaters who are unable to purchase them for themselves; more cleanup of the waterways of debris left behind by Hurricane Dorian and the installation of water lights and better landmarks throughout the islands and cays.
Minister Coleby-Davis pointed out that some of those concerns are already in the works of being addressed, with much cleanup already taking place and with plans just weeks away for installing lights in waterways around the country.
Although the townhall meeting was primarily about boating concerns, some residents brought up questions and issues of road traffic worries, which Minister Coleby-Davis addressed at the meeting and organized future meetings with members of the taxi community in Grand Bahama upon her return to the island for an extended period of time in order to hear all concerns.