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The Bahamas Fast Ferries company has been in operation for a number of years and I am of the opinion that it has been reasonably successful financially. It has been of great assistance for passengers travelling to the Family Islands which it services and the communities of Eleuthera, Andros and Abaco in particular are very grateful for its existence.
However, it is widely believed that more can be done to accommodate passengers awaiting boarding at the various ports. For instance, at Spanish Wells, Current and Harbour Island there is no terminal where passengers can sit in comfort and wait for the arrival of the vessel. There are no toilet facilities, and, should there be rain or diverse ...
A top executive at the second largest resort on Bimini says direct ferry service from the U.S. will determine the success of the highly anticipated casino.
Michael Weber, general manager at the Bimini Big Game Club, said the resort is excited about the upcoming Resorts World Bimini Bay, set to open in December. But the proposed ferry service coming into Bimini from Ft. Lauderdale is essential, and if it fails to materialize, the island simply won't draw the numbers needed to justify its existence.
"Personally, I don't think we have the volume to have a successful casino. For it to work, I think the new casino has to play in conjunction with the Balearia coming in," according to Weber. "Casinos are based on getting bodies in there. We have sufficient bodies to keep us busy as a resort, but we're a small property. To keep a casino afloat, we're talking a lot of money. Something has to support it to make it work."
Weber pointed out that it has been more than two decades since Bimini had a direct ferry service come to the island.
The Balearia Bahamas Express currently services Grand Bahama, but dredging has begun in Bimini to accommodate the high-speed vessel. Bimini, which is just 50 miles away from the United States, is banking on the ferry's presence to bring Americans back and forth to the tiny island for quick trips.
"The role of the ferry is huge. We can do what we can with tour operators and such, and going after the corporate and wedding market, but those coming just for a couple of days, that's not available. But for Bimini, it's so close, and they can really spend the day here," he added.
Meantime, business at the Bimini Bay Resort is reportedly booming during its second phase of development.
With the addition of its world-class casino, the resort's executives plan to take advantage of infrastructural improvements on Bimini and aggressively market the property.
RAV Bahamas' CEO, Alejandro Capo, noted that 13 of phase two's 131 residential homes have already been sold, just six months after it started.
"We're really going to go with the great marketing effort for the second part of this year to see if we can get the up northerners because right now our primary markets are South America and South Florida," he said. "We really haven't hit any of those northern markets like New York, New Jersey, the Metro area."
With the new casino on schedule to open in December, Capo estimates there to be an increase in employment opportunities on the island.
"The casino will need to hire another 100 people on Bimini. Indirectly, he said, the need for more casino regulators and other spin off jobs will result in a total of 250 to 300 new jobs," he shared.
According to Capo, Bimini Bay's marina has seen an increase. Boating business is up by 50 percent compared to last year, he said, and all major holidays have been sold out months in advance.
"So we're really not seeing that downturn in our marina business," he added.
However, Capo noted the hotel portion of his business has suffered due to the lack of airlift into Bimini, although he is pleased that there are now plans for a new airport terminal.
The tourism minister, Obie Wilchcombe, recently revealed to Guardian Business that they are in discussions with several different airlines with a view to increasing airlift to Bimini. With the anticipation of increased airlift, Wilchcombe said there will be a need to improve that island's airport to accommodate the increased number of travelers.
"We are going to have to extend the airport's runway. That is not necessarily going to take place within the next four months, maybe over the next year [to] year and a half. The truth is we will have to consider the size of the aircraft that will be coming into Bimini," he explained.
He shared with Guardian Business that his team is currently in negotiations with three airlines and charter services, including the national flag carrier Bahamasair.
Prime Minister Perry Christie yesterday christened a cruise ship which he said is expected to bring up to 400,000 passengers to Bimini on an annual basis.
Christie also opened a new Resorts World Casino, which is expected to inject millions of dollars into the small island economy.
He said the new developments will provide hundreds of jobs for the people of Bimini and many more spin-off opportunities.
"The economic impact on the local economy will be enormous as Resorts World proceeds rapidly in concert with the government to turn Bimini into one of the most attractive destinations in The Bahamas, having due regard to the environment, local culture and traditions," said Christie during the official opening of the casino at Bimini Bay.
The ship, Bimini Superfast, has the capacity to carry up to 3,000 passengers, and is dedicated solely to transporting passengers between Bimini and Miami, Florida.
Prior to the opening ceremony for the casino, Christie christened the ship during a short ceremony in Miami yesterday morning.
The Resorts World/Genting Group and RAV Bahamas formed a joint venture to bring the casino to the island.
Christie said in the coming months there will be significant upgrades to the island's infrastructure.
"In order to increase overall occupancy and to transform this resort into a year round destination, a strategic transformation plan is being implemented that addresses product placement, procurement of affordable transportation with express cruise ship ferry and airlift offering special rates, island infrastructural improvement, resort activity enhancement, the implementation of an effective marketing strategy, human resource development and training to deliver a world class service," Christie said.
He said there are plans to market the resort as a haven for boating and water sports.
Christie said the capital costs to Resorts World associated with the acquisition and introduction of the cruise ferry services is $95 million.
He added that following environment approval, Resorts World will also build at its expense a deep water jetty and terminal for a cost of an additional $10 million at which the Bimini Superfast and two mega yachts will dock.
Christie said until the dock is completed later this year, the developer has acquired two large catamarans to be used as tenders.
During an interview in Miami following the christening of the boat, Christie underscored the importance of training so that more Bahamians can take advantage of the jobs that are available now and those that will come on stream later.
Resorts World and Genting Group Chairman Kok Thay Lim, whose company used to own a hotel property in Freeport, Grand Bahama, said he hopes this project will have greater success.
"We have greater experience now with presence in New York City, Miami, Las Vegas, Malaysia, Singapore and United Kingdom," Kok said.
"We are now preparing to make World Resort Bimini in The Bahamas into an international destination resort."
Bimini Superfast is 32,000 gross tons, 670 feet long, 82 feet wide and has 10 floors.
Kok said it's the fastest cruise ship in the Americas.
The boat will travel between Bimini and Miami twice per day.
"This provides two types of experiences, a 10-day exploratory cruise, and an eight-hour day party cruise and a free and easy getaway," Kok said.
He said another feature of the ship is that it can carry cargo, which will lower transportation costs to Bimini by at least one third.
It can also carry boats and private yachts and make the great Bahama Bank a year round sailing destination, bringing greater economic activity to The Bahamas, he said.
This feature with be offered after the creation of the jetty.
Kok also noted the many spin-off benefits that the developments will create
"Hopefully, it will build a new bridge between Miami and the Commonwealth of The Bahamas," he said.
Malaysia-based conglomerate Genting has reported an 80.5 percent drop in its net profits in the fourth quarter, citing losses in part due to start up costs and "operational challenges" in its Resorts World Bimini operation (RWB) on Bimini.
However, the company has promised in its latest filings that it "remains committed on stabilizing operations there".
"In the United States of America and The Bahamas, higher revenue was attributed to higher volume of business from the operations of Resorts World Casino New York City (RWNYC), and contribution from Resorts World Bimini (RWB) in The Bahamas upon the commencement of its operations on 28 June 2013," the company said.
"However, the leisure and hospitality segment in the U.S. and The Bahamas suffered an adjusted loss on earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) due to the loss suffered by the Bimini operations as a
result of operational challenges associated with the start-up of its operations, partially reduced by higher EBITDA from RWNYC operations."
While revenue was up in the fourth quarter of 2013 over the same period in the previous year for Genting's US and Bahamas operations, from $203 million Malaysian ringgits to R$237 million, profit before tax slipped from R$49.8 million to a loss of R$21.2 million, offset only slightly by profits in Genting's Resorts World New York operations.
For the fiscal year overall, profits were up slightly for its US and Bahamas operations, from R$173.2 million to R$185.8 million.
The outcome contributed to an overall fall of profits for the conglomerate for the period to $1 billion, as opposed to $2.969 billion in the same period last year. Genting's business ranges from leisure and hospitality to energy to oil palm plantations.
Reuters news agency said that the sharp drop also partly reflected an inflated figure a year earlier due to profits from the sale of two power plants. Profits were also down significantly in its Singapore gaming operations.
Their latest results came out on Thursday, the same day as the Bimini Blue Coalition welcomed news that their judicial challenge of the RWB's efforts to construct a ferry terminal to which their Bimini Superfast ferry can dock at Bimini will get a second chance.
The Bimini Blue Coalition had been seeking a judicial review of the legality of work to construct the ferry terminal in Bimini, along with an injunction to stop the work until this was determined, but had seen their efforts brought to a halt in December 2013 when Justice Hartman Longley called upon the group to put up $650,000 in security for costs in advance, in case they lost the matter.
Longley had called last December for the group to put up the funds by Friday February 28th, or face an automatic dismissal of their case.
On Thursday, the Court of Appeal gave the Bimini Blue Coalition an extension of time to appeal the decision of Justice Longley after the group failed to do so within the initial 14 day window. The appellate court also stayed an order of Longley's from February 14th which had mandated that unless the group paid the security for costs by Friday, they would see their judicial review action completely dismissed.
The Bimini Blue Coalition's appeal against the security for costs order will now be heard on March 25th. In filings in November 2013 to support its judicial review application the Bimini Blue Coalition told the court that the "threat to Bimini's future is substantial" from the construction of the ferry terminal and an accompanying 4.5 acre man-made island off the coast of Bimini.
Responding to the ruling on Thursday, Michelle Malcolm, director of public affairs for Resorts World Bimini, said: "Resorts World Bimini respects the position of the Court of Appeals and will provide all materials requested as we have in the past. We have always followed the proper procedures to seek approvals and will continue to work with the Bahamian Government to do so in the future."
The Bimini Blue Coalition's efforts to stop the terminal were not the major issue affecting the profitability of Resort's World Bimini's operations, however.
A legal challenge in the US courts against the company's night cruises, which stopped the company being able to use its Bimini Superfast vessel to offer night "cruises to nowhere" which allowed passengers to gamble offshore. The cruises complimented its day time trips, and in filings in the court case in which the US Customs and Border Patrol claim they violated the law because the crew were non-US, it said that without them its Bimini operations would be placed "in peril" as the night cruises were generating key revenue, while its Bimini operations went through the start up phase.
In late January, Genting lost an appeal against the court's ruling which stopped the trips.
Genting's response: "We respectfully disagree with the ruling and are evaluating all options, including appeal. This decision does not impact our ability to conduct day cruises, which will continue without interruption."
Resorts World Bimini is currently in the process of investing $150 million into Bimini, as part of a plan which will include a 350 room marina hotel and 50 villas. It has also been involved in an effort to obtain one of the contracts available under the Bahamas Electricity Reform process in recent months, although the current status of its bid is unclear.
At the same time, Genting has become a major player in the Miami development market, and is progressing with a mixed-use development plan at the former Miami Herald site. When it initially purchased the property it had announced plans to launch a large casino in downtown Miami on the site. However, these plans have since become less popular with Miami authorities.
Genting announced on January 9th that it hopes to use a Broward racetrack's second, dormant casino license to open a 2,000 machine slots parlor in a building known as the Omni Complex off Biscayne Boulevard. Genting paid more than $420 million for this property, along with the former Miami Herald building, in 2011. It is unclear how the establishment of more gaming facilities by Genting in Miami could impact demand for its Bimini casino and Bimini Superfast ferry service.
Telling the Supreme Court that the "threat to Bimini's future is substantial", attorneys for the Bimini Blue Coalition have won leave to apply for a judicial review of the North Bimini Ferry Terminal and 4.5 acre man-made offshore island currently under construction off Bimini by Resorts World Bimini.
Meanwhile, the group will find out in court on Thursday if their further applications for an injunction against the ongoing construction work - until it can be determined that the developer has all necessary authorizations - and their demand for the disclosure of all "permits, approvals, leases and licenses" obtained by the development to date, will be granted.
Environmental attorney Romauld Ferreira of Ferreira and Co. submitted the application for leave to seek a judicial review of the project, in addition to the injunction and "discovery" request seeking the disclosure of permits obtained, in the Freeport Supreme Court late last week.
Ferreira, a long-standing critic of the project, had earlier threatened to move ahead with the action if letters sent to the government calling for the work to be halted did not elicit a response by last Thursday.
Ferreira could not be reached for comment yesterday, however, another attorney with knowledge of the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to comment officially, said the decision by the court to grant the group leave to apply for a judicial review has given them a "foot in the door" that they were looking for.
The group now expects attorneys for Resorts World Bimini to vigorously argue against the injunction in court on Thursday, so that it can continue with the construction work, for which it has indicated it has an aggressive completion schedule.
It is not yet clear when the group's request for a judicial review will be heard.
In the submissions made to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Bimini Blue Coalition it is argued that without an injunction pending the final hearing of the judicial review, "the whole point of the Planning and Subdivisions Act and the Buildings Regulatory Act will be rendered nugatory (and) substantial and irreversible damage will have been suffered by the marine environment."
Michelle Malcolm, director of public affairs for Resorts World Bimini, said yesterday that the company did not wish to comment on the matter, however the company has repeatedly defended the project, suggesting that it will bring economic benefits to the Bimini community and beyond.
Intended to allow easy docking of the company's superfast ferry service, the North Bimini Ferry Terminal project, which includes a 1,000-foot pier and a 4.5 acre island, has been highly controversial since it came to light, attracting criticism in particular from the applicant in the judicial review matter, the Bimini Blue Coalition, in addition to the Bahamas National Trust.
In the application for leave for a judicial review, the Bimini Blue Coalition suggested that the project is "insensitive both to the natural environment and to the character of the island, and there is a high risk that it will prove unsustainable - after it has had an irreversible impact on Bimini's natural resources."
The application notes many potential negative impacts of the project highlighted in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) commissioned by Resorts World Bimini itself, and states that "having desperately cast about to identify any real positives at all for the development" the EIA lists "positives for the developers, not for the community".
Prime Minister Perry Christie; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Works Philip Brave Davis; the Town Planning Committee; RWBB Resorts Management Ltd; RWBB Management Ltd; Bimini Superfast Charter Ltd and RAV Bahamas are listed as respondents in the matter.
Questioning whether proper procedures were followed prior to the commencement of construction by Resorts World Bimini, the application suggests that the latter four of these entities "have and continue to commit offenses under the legislation in place to regulate development and preserve the natural environment of The Bahamas and that the government ministers and agencies empowered by statute to take action in relation thereto have done nothing despite these matters having been brought to their attention."
The Bimini Blue Coalition defines itself in the judicial review application as a "Bahamian company formed expressly to represent the collective interests of persons committed to protecting the islands of Bimini".
"Its members include... local residents and landowners as well as members of the public residing in The Bahamas, all of whose interests and rights are affected by the activities of the developers."
The EIA supporting the North Bimini Ferry Terminal has proposed that any impacts to existing and future fisheries resources around the island will be mitigated in part by advising local fishermen to cease fishing within a mile of the proposed construction site and for 10 years around a proposed artificial reef location.
Meanwhile, monitoring and the success of mitigation efforts in terms of impacts on fisheries will involve conducting interviews with "at least 10 fishermen annually for a period of 10 years" and it is proposed that an environmental manager will visit "the local fish market" to assess the amount of fish available.
In a section on "fisheries harvest monitoring", the EIA addendum, prepared by Blue Engineering, states that impacts to existing and future fisheries that are anticipated during the construction phase of the Ferry Terminal are "mainly seafood demands from construction workers and tourists", rather than any indirect impact of the construction itself.
"Otherwise impacts are anticipated to be minimal as no significant fishing normally takes place at the proposed ferry terminal site.
"Nonetheless, notifications advising local fishermen that their fishing activities must cease within a mile of the proposed construction site should be posted."
Notifications will also be posted to advise local fishermen that their fishing activities must cease at the artificial reef location for 10 years other than to remove invasive species such as lionfish in order to allow delicate coral transplants to catch as well as for the health of the new artificial reef.
This artificial reef composed of transplanted corals has been proposed to mitigate the impact of the terminal on 14 reefs in the vicinity of the terminal.
The EIA calls for the impact, if any, of the ferry terminal project on the regular harvest of fishermen to be determined in part by "visits to the local fish market monthly throughout the construction phase of the project to document yields and approximate locations of all catches.
"Commercial fishermen are also presently required to possess a 'catch certificate' to monitor their catches so that all seafood exports are certified. Data from these certificates will also be reviewed to determine if fishing patterns have been altered by this project."
"Results from on-the-ground interviews with local and commercial fisherman will be tabulated and submitted to the BEST Commission.
"If a decline is observed, and equated to the Bimini Bay Ferry Terminal project/arrivals resulting from the ferry service, mitigation measures will be discussed and implemented in coordination with the BEST Commission."
Mitigation measures suggested should there turn out to be an impact on fisheries resources as a result of the Resorts World Bimini project, according to the EIA, are implementing a reduction in the amount of local seafood served at Bimini Bay restaurants and an increase in imported seafood, the establishment of Fisheries Councils to "limit catch", or the establishment of "an aquaculture presence" in or near Bimini.
Last week, Guardian Business confirmed that Resorts World Bimini has received a construction permit for the North Bimini Ferry Terminal, which is to be constructed at a cost of $10 million to $15 million in order to allow easy disembarkation of passengers arriving into Bimini on the company's superfast ferry service from Miami. The ship has the capacity to bring around 1,500 visitors to the island a day, providing a significant economic boost in terms of money spent in the local economy and employment.
The joint owners of a key resort in Bimini have thrown their weight behind the Genting Group's Resorts World Bimini investment in Bimini, stating it will be "very positive" for their resort, and looks set to end the seasonality of tourism on the island...
Biminites who have been quietly talking among themselves as heavy equipment stands at the ready to alter their lifestyle and their environment are "petrified with fear"...
On the heels of a ruling by the Supreme Court that it may move ahead with a judicial review of a Bimini development, the Bimini Blue Coalition has enlisted "serious scientific muscle" to strengthen its claims of environmental mismanagement on the tiny island and provide what it considers "a better plan for Bimini," the organization has stated in a release.
The non-profit group, a partner of the rapidly growing environmental movement Save the Bays, is bringing on board "top minds and respected academicians with intimate knowledge" of Bimini's fragile ecosystem.
According to the Coalition, each of the scientists is volunteering and together, they are willing to advise on sustainable alternatives and potential impacts from the current plans for the North Bimini Ferry Terminal project, led by foreign developer Genting Group.
Meantime, Genting is being "photographed, videotaped and monitored" by the Coalition as the Malaysian-based company continues to move ahead with a 1,000-foot pier and 4.5 acre island to accommodate cruise ships from nearby Florida.
A total of eight scientists - each one with a Ph.D. in marine or marine-related science - have joined forces with Bimini Blue Coalition, including Dr. Kristine Stump, Dr. Craig O'Connell, Dr. Demian Chapman, Dr. Eric Stroud, Dr. Bryan Franks, Dr. R. Dean Grubbs, and others.
Dr. Stump, a lead researcher at the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, has authored a book on large-scale development in Bimini and its impact on the environment when she submitted her thesis after the initial development that changed Bimini's eco-system, Bimini Bay Resort, was created. That development has since been taken over by Genting.
Dr. Stump's thesis dealt directly with the impact of Bimini Bay Resort on the island's inshore marine ecosystems.
"On the other side of the narrow spit of land that separates the lagoon from the ocean, Bimini's world famous coral reefs are threatened by the same resort's construction plans," she said today. "As the only such habitat on the western edge of the Great Bahama Bank, Bimini's coral reefs are not only home to several critically endangered species of coral, but they are also potentially important to the overall health of other reefs in the Bahamas."
Stump also echoed the concerns of a recent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), noting that these natural resources are essentially the "foundation" of the island's tourism industry.
"It is incredibly important to preserve these fragile natural resources, as they are what bring visitors to the island in the first place," she added.
Resorts World Bimini has insisted that it is sensitive to the environment and its development will bolster the tiny island's economy.
Controversy once again surfaced earlier this month when the attorneys representing the Bimini Blue Coalition won leave to apply for a judicial review of the ferry terminal project.
Lawyers have made a "discovery" request for all permits, approvals, leases and licenses associated with the development.
The Bimini Blue Coalition is calling the proposed plans for Resorts World Bimini, like the construction of a cruise ship terminal off North Bimini, "unsustainable and misplaced."
In a statement issued to Guardian Business, the Bimini Blue Coalition (BBC) has declared that "outlandish and absurd" proposals being put forth by the developers have prompted the group to speak out...