Categorized | National News

Minister “Disappointed” In Marine Pilots Dispute –Row Could Have Negative Effects

The Ministry of Transport and Aviation last week weighed in on the ongoing drama between the Grand Bahama Port Authority (GBPA) and the Bahamas Marine Pilots Association (BMPA) who are fighting for safer working conditions, and said the lengthy row could have negative effects on the country’s maritime industry.

The drama first unfolded when the marine pilots accused the GBPA of not providing the proper work environments for them which they said also pose work and health hazards daily.

Eleven pilots eventually resigned.

In a statement Transportation Minister Glenys Hanna-Martin warned all involved that the weeks-long row could be having damning effects for the country and added that she has taken careful note of the tone and the content of recent comments regarding the safety of pilotage in The Bahamas and said the words have been “intemperate and the allegations inaccurate.”

“It is not correct, nor is it fair, to impugn The Bahamas’ remarkable overall record of safety in the maritime field,” she said. “We are respected as a nation for the fact we have expended and continue to expend tremendous effort in support of maritime safety.

“Specifically as regards pilotage in The Bahamas, our ports – whether in Freeport or Nassau – are major international destinations. Our pilots have assisted in thousands of vessels movements a year. Port calls in The Bahamas include giant tankers, container ships, and the world’s largest cruise vessels. Overwhelmingly, these port movements have been carried out safely and successfully. The Bahamas takes its obligations very seriously and is an advocate for international shipping standards.”

In fact the minister said The Bahamas as a major maritime administration has consistently advocated safety, security, quality and the protection of the marine environment.

Last week during the annual International Marine Pilots Association (IMPA) Congress in Panama, Nick Cutmore, secretary general of the body, cited the concerns of the BMPA and highlighted perceived hypocrisies of the GBPA.

He recalled an accident that occurred in waters off Canada involving a Bahamian vessel and how the incident was met with swift action on the part of the GBPA to ensure that safety measures were in place so that the country’s maritime industry would be in line with international standards.

But he questioned why the pilots’ efforts to adhere to international guidelines are being met with such resistance.

“Imagine my surprise then two weeks ago to find in The Bahamas’ own backyard so far as pilotage is concerned dismal standards, no oversight, commercial expediency, a long list of accidents and just plain stupidity,” Mr. Cutmore said.

“The pilots there are trying to form themselves into one cohesive group and shake off the sloppiness of big oil and corporate thinking. They are struggling and they have all resigned their posts to press the issue. I’d like you to think about that as a staggering leap of faith.”

However, Minister Hanna-Martin said The Bahamas has consistently and diligently promoted, implemented and adhered to conventions and regulations promulgated at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), of which The Bahamas has been a member since 1976 and a council member for many years.

“While The Bahamas recognises that any incident is one too many, necessary steps have been and continue to be taken to continue the promotion of maritime safety and the protection of the marine environment,” she added. “The Bahamas does not rest on the fact that our maritime record has been a very good one. The Government of The Bahamas is in constant communication with all of the stakeholders in The Bahamas maritime sector, including the parties to the current dispute between Freeport Harbour interests and their former employees, a private dispute to which the government is not a party.

“We consistently promote maritime safety and safe maritime practices, and we will not rest in our insistence that proper standards be maintained, and that wherever essential improvements should be effected, this will be done. We find it disappointing that the aforementioned dispute has fostered claims that have the effect of tarnishing the reputation of our country internationally.”

She further warned that the effects of this dilemma will be to the detriment of The Bahamas and the Bahamian people, and cannot be a productive strategy.

“We would urge a moderation of the dialogue, a more balanced approach, so that substantive issues can be constructively discussed and addressed,” she suggested.

Meantime officials at the Bahamas Oil Refinery Company (BORCO) issued a statement Friday calling the IMPA’s claims “false.”

“The most recent tactic of the BMPA is to issue so-called advisories that make baseless claims about the safety standards of vessel operations in The Bahamas,” the statement read. “The BMPA is not a government entity and has no authority to issue safety advisories. The organisation has no jurisdiction over maritime affairs in The Bahamas and is infringing upon the authority of the Grand Bahama Port Authority and the elected Government of The Bahamas and, to our knowledge, neither has afforded the BMPA a mandate of any kind.”

BORCO accused the BMPA of trying to establish a for-profit monopoly enterprise for its own financial gain at the expense of the “longstanding, reputable and safe businesses operating in Freeport Harbour.”
BORCO said despite the fallout, business has continued as usual with a “dedicated team of five experienced pilots” in place that is more than capable of handling our pilotage needs comfortably on a normal schedule, and there will be no interruption of or delay in service.

“Two new junior pilots have also joined the BORCO team and will be trained on the berthing process according to industry standards,” BORCO officials added. “Any statements to the contrary or accusations that BORCO pilots are currently overworked are unfounded. BORCO has conducted operations at or above international industry standards for over 50 years. We will continue to uphold the highest international performance standards that have long been key to BORCO’s success in the international oil transshipment and storage industry.”

Written by Jones Bahamas

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