Answers sought on hurricane relief supplies housed in Freeport

Irate Abaco residents have expressed frustration about what they believed to be donated roofing supplies earmarked for Abaco that have been sitting since last year in a warehouse in Freeport.

Storm victims on the island had taken to social media to question why critically-needed relief supplies for Abaco would not have been sent to the island to aid storm victims in repairing their hurricane-damaged structures.

Perspective obtained a video filmed of the supplies stored at Freeport Ship Services and labeled “Hurricane Relief Abaco from Norwegian Cruise Lines”, and as a result sought comment from officials on the nature of the shipment and its intended distribution.

The video displays pallets of 12mm CDX sheathing plywood stamped at 75 sheets per bundle as well as pallets of shingles. We understand that the shipment consisted of 21 pallets of plywood and three pallets of shingles.

President and owner of Freeport Ship Services Jeremy Cafferata in an interview with Perspective Monday maintained that there was “nothing sinister” about the shipment having been at his facility for some time, noting that, “it was sent by MSC, donated by NCL (Norwegian Cruise Lines) and MSC donated the freight.

“The chain of correspondence indicated that — this was sort of internal between NCL and their freight forwarder — they basically said, ‘Would you like us to wait for Seacor to send it straight to Abaco or should we send it to Freeport with MSC?’

“NCL made the decision,” he continued, “to send it by MSC to Freeport and it arrived with us here. The question then became from us, ‘What do we do with it?’

“And they said, ‘Distribute it from your office.’”

His explanation on who the supplies were intended for spoke to what was to be our next question, given that Disaster Reconstruction Authority Managing Director Kay Forbes-Smith, in an earlier interview with Perspective, said “her contact at NCL” advised her that the shipment was not designated for Abaco but for the staff of Freeport Ship Services.

Forbes-Smith, who advised that she made contact with NCL after having recently received a WhatsApp message on the matter, said, “I did have sight of those emails where NCL told Freeport Ship Services that they could give it to their staff.”

Cafferata offered that, “To be fair there was some confusion with that; at some point there was a suggestion that it was for us, and it was ‘for distribution from your office rather than for your office’, but it was marked Abaco.”

He added, “Nothing is being used. It’s all still here, I had said to Kay I am happy to turn it over to anyone [and] if it is needed in Abaco and someone is prepared to pay the freight then we can go ahead and make arrangements to get it loaded but we can’t afford to pay the $3,000 or $4,000 freight from Freeport to Abaco.”

Cafferata stated, “I have no interest in keeping it at the warehouse here. It needs to be wherever it can be put to good use. I am happy to turn it over to NEMA.”

Both Cafferata and Forbes-Smith mentioned that the plywood shipped is half-inch plywood though the country’s building code calls for 5/8 inch plywood for roofs.

Contractors we spoke to said the sheets of plywood could be doubled to satisfy the roofing code.

At the end of the day, upset over the provision of building supplies via government to those in need of assistance has been mounting both on Abaco and on Grand Bahama where displaced residents are anxious to repair and rebuild their homes and their lives.

When asked how and where the shipment will be distributed at this stage, Forbes-Smith said, “No determination has been made because I need to physically investigate what exactly are these things and once we do that we will determine who best can use it.”

She continued, “Prior to my joining the authority, with my role in NEMA, whenever supplies came I split it between Grand Bahama and Abaco because the donors simply say generally it’s to be used in the affected areas so more than likely, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

“But it is going to cost the authority to ship it to Abaco, but that’s probably what we will do.”

To date, no information has been provided to the public by the minister responsible for the authority, Iram Lewis, on the amount of money allocated to the authority to carry out its legislated responsibilities, though millions thus far have been donated to hurricane relief efforts in The Bahamas.

Forbes-Smith said the authority is planning a town meeting on Abaco this week where she will “fully address” the issue.

For NCL’s part, it has donated over $3 million worth of relief supplies to The Bahamas according to an infographic provided last Thursday by company spokesperson Andrea DeMarco.

The infographic lists the cruise lines’ donations including “50,000 sq. ft of plywood”.

“We have been continually transporting supplies since September through the end of this week,” DeMarco said.

Forbes-Smith revealed that based on her information from NCL, the cruise line’s relief donations for The Bahamas have been through the local Salvation Army.

Major Clarence Ingram, Salvation Army Divisional Commander for The Bahamas, told Perspective prior to our interview with Cafferata that, “We have received many, many donations from Norwegian since the hurricane and distributed them, so anything that was assigned to us in Freeport we have already distributed.”

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