Questions, as well as outrage, are mounting after more than 100 Bahamas evacuees were booted from a rescue ferry to the U.S. days after Hurricane Dorian had ravaged the islands, leaving death and destruction in its path.
Miami reporter Brian Entin, who was aboard the Baleària Caribbean ferry on Sunday, captured the moment several islanders were told to disembark because they didn’t have the proper documentation. In the video posted to Twitter, an unidentified official comes over the loudspeaker to say that any Bahamian without a U.S. visa must get off.
Dozens of families are seen getting up and leaving the ship with their belongings in tow.
“This is not normal,” Entin, an investigative journalist for station WVSN, tweeted. “Normally, Bahamians can travel to USA with passport and a printout of their police record. This is a mess.”
One woman told Entin nearly 130 people had left the ferry following the announcement, leaving several children and families “stuck on the island.”
“No one understands why the rule was changed at the last minute,” he added.
According to CNN, an estimated 1,500 evacuees arrived in Palm Beach, Florida aboard Grand Celebration humanitarian cruise ship over the weekend without incident. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials said all passengers were properly documented to enter the U.S.
That wasn’t the case however, for the hundreds of islanders fleeing Dorian’s destruction on a ferry from Freeport to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Sunday, where the chaos and confusion unfolded.
Officials say the hurricane, which struck the Bahamas as a Category 5 storm early last week, has displaced tens of thousands of locals and left at least 45 people dead, with the death toll expected to rise.
Michael Silva, a spokesman for CPB Florida, said he was “heartbroken” over news that hundreds of families were left stranded after being kicked off the rescue boat, and pointed the finger at the ferry company for the mix-up. In an interview with Newsweek, Silva said the agency had informed the ferry company it would need to transport evacuees to Nassau, the capitol, before heading to the states, allowing time for those fleeing the storm to obtain a visa to enter the U.S.
That didn’t happen, however, and those who had failed to do so were forced off the boat.
“It’s like when you raise somebody’s hopes and then you pop the balloon… That, in my opinion, is what Baleària did,” Silva told the outlet. “It raised the expectations of these poor people, who have been through an unimaginable situation with the hurricane. They raised their expectations only to then leave them terribly disappointed.”
Silva noted that while the CPB had emphasized that any airlines or shipping companies looking to aid Dorian evacuees ensure those folks were properly documented, he said the agency would have processed those who were left behind had they managed to make it to a U.S. port.
“We would have definitely worked with this transportation company or any other transportation company to … facilitate this process,” he added. “CBP is not denying or discouraging evacuation efforts and we empathize with the plight of the Bahamian people.”
Not only did Baleària fail to coordinate with CPB, but the “for-profit cruise” charged passengers $150 for a boat ride to the U.S.
“It wasn’t a humanitarian mission,” Silva told Newsweek.
Video of the upheaval sparked outrage across social media.
“My blood is boiling,” one man tweeted, placing blame on President Donald Trump‘s administration. “This is one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever heard. I can’t express my disgust at this administration enough.”
“The Bahamas just suffered a devastating storm and the U.S. government isn’t letting them come to the states without visas via ferry, even though no prior notice of this change was given,” another user opined.
Presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke even chimed in, tweeting: “This is the height of cruelty — denying help to those who need it most. This [Trump] administration has said the words on the Statue of Liberty should be rewritten, and in their actions, they are already changing who we are as a country.”
According to CPB, all passengers arriving to U.S. from another nation “must present themselves to a CBP officer for inspection at an official CBP Port of Entry,” where they must also provide a valid ID and travel documents. The agency further notes on its website that, for the most part, Bahamians can travel to the U.S. visa-free if they’re flying in on a flight that has cleared CPB formalities beforehand.
Additionally, Bahamian travelers must also “be in possession of a valid, unexpired passport or a Bahamian Travel Document listing Nationality as Bahamian,” along with a clear criminal record.
It’s unclear what documents are required for Bahamians arriving by boat, however.
In a statement, the agency said “it relies on the transportation companies in both the air and sea environments to be engaged in ensuring the safety and well-being of any individuals that have been devastated by this tragedy and that requires transparent communication and planning for adequate resources to receive any arrivals.”
Non-profit group We Have a Right to Be Right (RTBR) has since launched a GoFundMe campaign to help those impacted by Hurricane Dorian.
See more in the videos below.
Big problems on the ferry from Freeport to Florida — announcement just made that any Bahamian without a visa must now get off. This is not normal. Nornally Bahamians can travel to USA with passport and a printout of their police record. This is a mess. pic.twitter.com/DESUm2qBGE
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) September 8, 2019
That’s it. We’re leaving — all Bahamian evacuees without a visa taken off. The Bahamians who remain are in shock. No one understands why the rule was changed at the last minute. The parents and kids now stuck on the island. pic.twitter.com/Jvd3D6MTZW
— Brian Entin (@BrianEntin) September 9, 2019