NASSAU, BAHAMAS – While The Bahamas is able to provide some assistance to flag-ship vessels sequestered at sea during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Transport minister Renward Wells said the country does not have the capacity to take in critically-ill passengers or crew.
The swift spread of COVID-19 and the World Health Organization’s classification of a pandemic led to the partial closure of many countries borders, particularly in the Caribbean, before a full border lockdown — leaving many cruise liners sequestered in waters mid-voyage.
On Sunday, the U.S. Coast Guard advised cruise liners to prepare for sequestering for an indefinite time at sea and noted that cruise ships will be asked to seek aid, namely medical evacuations, from their flag state in cases of critically-ill passengers or crew prior to seeking the help of the coast guard.
In a statement on the matter, Transport Minister Renward Wells outlined several ways the country was providing support to cruise ships during the unprecedented global crisis.
Wells noted however that even though The Bahamas has been able to provide some assistance, the country is still trying to cope with the impact from Hurricane Dorian just over six months ago.
“What we have not been able to do is to take people from ships ashore in our population centers,” he said.
“We are a small island developing state with a national population in the 300,000.
“We are proud of the medical care that we afford our people, but it is scaled to our population size.
“Our system is not designed to deal with a massive influx of new COVID-19 patients from outside our country.”
Wells noted that The Bahamas has had a long standing and ongoing relationship with the US Coast Guard based on mutual interest and respect and a shared interest in share in high standards of vessel quality and responsible maritime oversight.
“Each of us is now confronting a unique challenge, that of dealing responsibly with a global pandemic – first and foremost protecting our populations – while doing our best to support those individuals, passengers and crew, sheltering-in-place on board ship,” he continued.
“We continue to work closely with the cruise industry.”
The Bahamas’ flag represents the largest number of cruise ships of any registry in the world.
Wells said The Bahamas Maritime Authority works with the cruise ship owners in relation to the safe operation of these ships, and the health and well-being of their passengers and seafarers; and the country has been responsive in enabling safe and responsible solutions – within parameters – for cruise ships in the course of this pandemic.
“We have made inter-governmental contact where we could be helpful,” he indicated
“We have devised safe methods of resupply for our flag cruise vessels that were running critically low on provisions, medical supplies and medical personnel.
“We have provided places of shelter, under carefully controlled conditions, for a number of vessels seeking to shelter in our waters.
“We have also given access to these sheltering vessels irrespective of country vessels irrespective of country of registry; in the process accommodating ships of a number of flags in addition to our own.”
Wells added that while assuring the safety of the Bahamian people at all times, the government will continue to do what it can to support the individuals sheltering-in-place aboard cruise vessels in Bahamian waters.