Young Man’s View: Shipping In The Bahamas

Tribune Columnist Adrian Gibson


THERE is an urgent need to examine shipping in our archipelago. I have recently had cause to ship building supplies to Long Island via G and G shipping company, which is situated in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Firstly, the service was horrendous and the cost for shipping was exorbitant and, frankly, ludicrous.

According to the Family Island Development Encouragement Act, persons sending building supplies, land clearing machinery and so on, for construction and development of the Out Islands specified in the schedule, are exempt from customs and excise tax. During the recent budgetary exercise, the Christie Administration recently extended the life of the Act for another year. What’s interesting is that it appears that foreign shipping companies, and their seemingly over zealous local agents, are capitalizing on the customs exemption and allegedly tacking on additional costs.

In recent days, I’ve shipped building supplies to Long Island. Once I was told that the supplies had been dropped to the shippers, I made contact with G and G’s offices in Florida via telephone and email. I left a voicemail on the phone of the agent responsible for Long Island, and though, her personal message claimed that she would call back in an hour, she never called—not to this day (I have always called her or her junior). However, I did speak with another agent—presumably her junior—who dealt with me (by phone and email) for two days. Of course, for absolute certainty, I found myself emailing the portfolio agent, who responded to me with a list of prices as opposed to a direct answer to my questions. What’s more, the junior agent appeared to be more knowledgeable and more helpful than the substantive agent who they deemed responsible for Long Island.

The lack of professionalism became more obvious during the course of our emails, when I was told—on one hand—that I would need a 20-foot container and was given a quote from one agent, only to have another agent give me a higher quote for the same container. I submitted a complaint about the additional fees appended to the original price I had been given, fees that ranged from bunker costs ($240.38) to a documentation fee ($20.00) to a security charge ($100.00) to a strapping fee ($150.00—that was charged for them to merely strap my supplies on a 20-foot flat rack that) to a terminal transfer fee ($200.00) to a SED fee ($35). This was all added to the ocean freight, which already cost $2,121.65. I queried every charge via telephone/email and they soon admitted that the SED charge (whatever that is) did not apply. However, it wasn’t long after that I was informed that I would need a 40-foot trailer with cost and fees totalling $3998.17 and ranging from ocean freight ($2944.55), bunker ($333.62), document fee ($20.00), security ($200.00), strapping ($150.00) and terminal transfer ($350.00). As one can imagine, I was peeved at not just the exorbitant fees but at the thought that poor Family Islanders could possibly benefit from the Family Island Development Encouragement Act—as the government intended—if they’re paying these ridiculous rates for shipping. It was then that I realized that in the final analysis, I would pay $4,000 to ship a container with items bought in the US (to avoid excessive costs here) and pay nearly half of what the building supplies costs, in totality, just to ship it to Long Island. That’s absurd and unacceptable!

Now, here’s the kicker. Once the items arrive in Long Island, the agents for the shipper will charge an additional amount to truck the supplies to whichever settlement the owner instructs them to take it. In my case, the items would be sent to Bunches and, in order to truck the flat rack with my supplies from the agent’s yard in Deadman’s Cay to Bunches, I would have to pay an additional $425 (drop-off and pick-up of their container by their next shipment). What’s more, if I don’t clear my supplies off their container/flat rack in one week (which I’ve already instructed to be done), I would have to pay $25 per day!

So, in total, the average Long Islander seeking to benefit and improve their hometown under the Family Island Development Encouragement Act must pay $4,500 just to clear their items (and that’s with the exemptions from customs and excise tax exemption). As it stands, though the steep prices (with outrageous fees) were unexpected, I can pay it. However, there are so many more Family Islanders whose hard-earned purchases must remain in the charge of the shipping agent, due to preposterous transport costs.

What’s more, G and G shipping’s US agents told me that they would ship my supplies to Long Island on the boat that departed for that destination from its US port last week Friday. They told me that those items would be in Long Island on Sunday past. So, when my nearly 80-year-old grandfather made the trek from Bunches in the north to Deadman’s Cay in the south and discovered that the material wasn’t shipped, we were both disappointed and livid. I then called the shippers to inquire about my supplies, only to be told—after much turnaround—that my building materials was “bumped off” the boat and would be shipped this week. I became angrier, asking why they—the agents—hadn’t taken the same liberties they took to email prices to tell me that they had “bumped” my shipment. There was no valid excuse and, even more, the so-called agent for Long Island didn’t even offer an apology. I later inquired as to who would compensate my grandfather for the time lost and the gas expended in driving all those miles for nothing—based on their misrepresentation that the items would’ve been shipped that Friday, landed by Sunday and ready to be cleared on Monday.

Relative to compensating my grandpa for gasoline and inconvenience and my inquiries about the date of shipping, I spoke to receptionist Sabrina Williams who at least copied me in an email she wrote to upper management relative to the confirmed shipping date. That said, I have yet to hear anything about recompense for my grandfather’s efforts.

So, this week, when the materials finally arrived in Long Island, I was sent a bill of lading that was a totally different representation from any of the earlier costs that was sent to me. The bill of lading, sent from G and G’s US offices, amounted to $4,191.17, featuring costs that I had previous waived and sent in a written waiver (their form, that I filled out and signed, scanned and emailed to them). I was up in arms and demanded that the bill of lading be corrected. The following morning (Wednesday) I called Florida to follow-up on my earlier request and the agent for Long Island, was not only unprofessional in her demeanour and approach, but she unsettled me to the point that I had to lecture her about professionalism and their constant fouling-up relative to my shipment. Frankly, she seemed nonchalant, disconnected, unapologetic and only interested in rushing me off the phone. G and G Shipping was doing me no favour, I was paying for everything that they did and getting horrible service for it. Prior to speaking to her, I spoke to Suzy Martinez, in the documentation department, who at least tried to be courteous and move my queries along.

What’s more, on Tuesday, my grandfather had once again driven from Bunches to Deadman’s Cay to pay the shipping costs (as I had sent the monies and asked him to) only for me to discover, from Carroll Shipping (local agents), that the bill of lading was incorrect. My grandfather once again had to drive into Deadman’s Cay to finalize the payment on Wednesday and, because the shipment was not in the local agent’s yard for him to inspect it at that time, he had to drive into Clarence Town to give the materials a look-see to ensure that everything on the ship’s manifest, concerning my shipment, was there (which he still could not definitively say, except to describe the flatrack as having “a good number of materials on it”). Up to my writing this column, the flatrack had not been delivered to his residence.

When G and G shipping finally sent the corrected bill of lading Wednesday morning—after two irate phone calls and email/s—I got a bill from Carroll Shipping. Now, here’s the kicker. The local agents bill incorporated and added to the earlier bill of lading sent by G and G. The local agent further charged me $106 to write up a customs entry form, $425 to transport my materials, $75 for road tax and a government customs processing fee of $149.18. I have wondered why filling out a custom’s entry form would cost $106 when a customs officer would usually charge $20-$30 but, I just ponied up and paid to clear my items. My total transport bill, after revision, was $4,603.35!

I will have to ship items to Long Island using G and G Shipping again—perhaps as early as the next two weeks. I hope that they would show an improvement in their services at that time.

When I travelled to Exuma to celebrate my birthday this weekend, a resident of George Town—who I’ve known for years—expressed to me some of the complaints that Exumians have had with G and G’s services, saying that he hoped that while I address the issues that Long Islanders and I have faced, that I would also “throw in a word for them.”

Quite honestly, I will reach out to Minister of Transport and Aviation Glenys Hanna-Martin to discuss the concerns of so many other Long Islanders who complain about the services rendered. As it stands, G and G is the only shipping company operating between Florida and the Family Islands and, as with any enterprise where there is no competition, the prices can be adjusted to reflect whatever they so desire. I am wondering if the Ministry of Transport and Aviation exercises efficient and proper oversight of the price schedule and the additional trucking costs. Is there any regulation relative to capping these prices? If there is price gouging, who is monitoring it? Much more could be done to encourage other local and foreign shipping companies to service the Family Islands, fostering competition and engendering the best customer service. No one company should feel like they are the “take it or leave it” option for citizens of our archipelago, particularly those citizens in far-flung islands. Fair play and professionalism is key!

As it stands, I have no choice but to use G and G shipping to send any items purchased abroad directly to Long Island and still fall within the confines of the Family Island Development Encouragement Act.

I call on the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, and all the other relevant government agencies, to listen to the plight of Family Islanders and seriously examine cost schedule and shipping practices of any company servicing our Family Island ports. Today, I speak for many of those voiceless Family Islanders who have the same complaints and/or have complained to me so that I could bring their concerns to the government’s and the public’s attention.

Re-location of Long Island’s NIB and BTC offices:

Long Islanders appear to have been grossly neglected by the government, in particular, those residents of north Long Island who have complained to me about not have a BTC depot or a National Insurance Board office within any acceptable range for ease of travel. Of late, BTC—with northern offices in both the Simms and O’Neils (the O’Neils office now being used as a tower site) settlements—has decided to close the Simms office, leaving residents to ride for many miles to pay their bills in Deadman’s Cay. The inconvenience for the residents of the north—and many of the elderly residents— is that they don’t have a vehicle or the monies to pay both for a ride and their outstanding bills.

The National Insurance Board’s relocation from the Simms office, apparently for renovation purposes, is also a great inconvenience for pensioners who pay persons between $30-$50 just to take them into Grays for an already meagre pension cheque ($260 per month). To impose such and relocate both offices and impose such conditions on these islanders—many of whom are down in age—is thoughtless, inconsiderate and downright unacceptable. Both the Bahamas Telecommunications Company and the National Insurance Board should reconsider their relocation and see to it that—for whatever reason they may have moved—they find temporary accommodations that are centrally and/or more conveniently situated.

Naming Minnis and Edison Key!

Wednesday’s showdown in the House of Assembly was perhaps FNM leader Dr Hubert Minnis’ watershed moment. I thought that the Speaker was heavy-handed and played into the FNM’s hands. The fact that Dr Minnis stood his ground and demanded greater accountability in government will resonate with the Bahamian public. Based on the mini-rally turnout at FNM headquarters on Wednesday night, Minnis has clearly begun the process of re-energizing a defeated and deflated FNM party that has suffered three consecutive losses at the polls (two by-elections and the general election).

So, it seems that the key has been turned and “bush crack”, Edison Key is gone! For a while now, it has been rumoured that Edison Key wishes to return to the PLP fold and that it is quite likely that he would cross the floor. Edison Key seems ready to, as we say, “push out.” He has always been a diehard PLP and, if he decides to resign instead of cross the floor, we should brace ourselves for an impending by-election.

Relative to discipline, article 53 and 54 of the FNM’s constitution states:

1. Wherever it shall come to the notice of the Executive Committee that a member of the Party may have acted contrary to the interests of the Party, its Platform, Programmes, Policies or Principles the Executive Committee may, at its discretion, cause an investigation to be made. If, after such investigation, it considers that a charge should be made against the member, the Committee shall forward to the member a statement of the charge together with particulars of the allegation upon which the charge is based. Insofar as the charge and particulars of the allegation are still unclear, the Executive Committee may call upon the accused member to state in writing, within a reasonable time as shall be specified, but not less than seven days, any grounds on which he relies to exculpate himself.
2. If the member does not furnish a reply to any charge forwarded under Section 53 within the period specified. Or if, in the opinion of the Executive Committee, he fails to exculpate himself the Executive Committee shall cause a Tribunal consisting of three members of the Council to be appointed to inquire into the matter.

Moreover, article 58 says:

The Tribunal, having inquired into such matter shall arrive at a decision as to whether the charge has been proven. If, in their opinion, the charge has been proven they shall impose upon the member any one of the following punishments:-.

(a) A fine not exceeding One Hundred Dollars ($100.00);

(b) Suspension for a period not exceeding One (1) year;

(c) Expulsion from the Party.

Since Edison Key has taken a position not in line with his leader or his party, by taking his seat in the House when everyone else absented themselves for the duration of the stem cell debate, will he be brought before the Executive Committee and any other Tribunal? Or, will the party be too frightened to lose another seat to even seek to discipline Mr Key?