Transport and Aviation Minister, the Honourable Glenys Hanna-Martin headed a team of senior officials from her ministry that travelled to Grand Bahama on Tuesday to address matters relating to an oil spill near the BORCO facility in Pinder’s Point.
Accompanying Minister Hanna-Martin were the State Minister for Transport and Aviation, the Honourable Hope Strachan and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, Lorraine Armbrister.
They were joined locally by senior officials from the Department of Environmental Health Services, the Port Department and the Road Traffic Department.
The minister’s visit included meetings with top executives at the Freeport Harbour Company/Container Port, the Bahamas Oil Refining Company, officials of the Grand Bahama Taxi Union and Bradford Marine. A tour of the Control Tower and the Meteorological Office at the Grand Bahama International Airport rounded out the minister’s busy itinerary.
She told the media that their visit was “really on the heels of a succession of events relating to oil spills in Bahamian waters.”
Further, the transport and aviation minister noted that her meetings with BORCO and Freeport Harbour were in relation to recent incidents involving those companies.
“We wanted to sit with them, with some of our technical people to share what we understand the facts to be from our investigation.
“They have agreed to share with us their Emergency Management Plan, and then to ensure a larger coordination with the national body because it is not just a closed shop dealing with industry – it’s a much larger picture because the waters of our country belong to the people of this country and so we have to protect it,” she stated.
Minister Hanna-Martin was keen to point out that while the government welcomes industry, it must strike a balance between the protection of the industry’s business interests and our marine environment.
Continuing, she informed that her team discussed with the industry partners her ministry’s plans to review the existing regulatory regime to ensure that the current legislation governing the petroleum industry is sufficiently astute to deal with that kind of operation in our country.
She pointed out that the government will look at jurisdictions like the Gulf Coast of the United States that have recently modified their laws in the aftermath of similar environmental incidents. Further, the minister expressed the desire of the government to strengthen its relationship with the industrial sector and improve the quality of communications between them. This, the minister believes, will reduce the response time and facilitate better coordination in the event of an incident.
The transport minister also said the subject of recovery costs was also brought up by her ministry because “in our efforts to protect the waters of The Bahamas, we have to do certain things; we have to get an aircraft to fly over (and) we have to mobilise teams. We are trying to see if there is an understanding about how costs can be recovered in those instances.
“So, this is the beginning of what is going to be a further follow up, (between) us here (and) them in Nassau. There are some workshops coming up with the regional body which we are going to ask them to join with us on and out of that, we want to ensure that there is a seamless interaction in the interest of protecting our waters,” she said.
The minister also informed that the oil spill which occurred this past weekend is still under investigation and that BORCO still has divers in the water searching for what may have caused the spill. She said that she is advised that there is no evidence of oil in the water at this time.
“Their divers are down and we are monitoring and watching to see whether there is any issue relative to the pipes under the sea. So far they have indicated that there is nothing of that nature, and so there is not a final outcome yet.
“We will be monitoring it because while we are partners in this issue we still have regulatory oversight and so there is independence in terms of our involvement. So we are monitoring what they are doing and the investigation into the most recent incident is ongoing and when it is completed, we will release it,” she stated.
The minister also advised that her ministry will soon release the final data on two other incidents involving BORCO and the Freeport Harbour Company.
She said that they are trying to minimise the frequency of these kinds of events and that while there has not been any major incident, the alarm has been raised.
“But we think out of this dialogue that we will be able now to heighten the understanding and the awareness of this issue. All sides are cognisant of the serious nature of what happens here and our protection of the waters,” she said.
With respect to the visit to the air traffic control tower, the Transport and Aviation Minister confirmed that the Bahamas Government will in July be taking over air traffic services and she is merely paying a courtesy call on the staff.
“The work is being done as we speak to effect the transfer of operations from the Grand Bahama Port Authority to the Bahamas Government,” she said.
She said that they are also pleased and proud that the government has re-established the Weather Service Office in Grand Bahama with experienced technical officers at both sites who would be protecting the interests of the people in this region of The Bahamas.
On another note, State Minister for Transport and Aviation, Hope Strachan said their early morning meeting with the Grand Bahama Taxi Union and independent cab drivers was quite fruitful, and was a follow up meeting to the one she hosted with the group about a month ago.
“We consider them to be very, very important to us. As a tourist destination, they are what we call our ambassadors, our first sighting by the tourists, and so it is important in terms of what they do and how they greet our visitors,” she stated.
She said that one of the key concerns raised by the cab drivers was that of the high cost of duty on their vehicles. She also advised that with the advent of new road traffic regulations, she welcomes the ideas advanced by the local taxi cab drivers.