Grand Bahama News

Mystery rigs raise concerns

Public long left in dark over why they’re anchored off Grand Bahama

The appearance of five oil drilling rigs moored off Holmes Rock and Deadman’s Reef, Eight Mile Rock, West Grand Bahama, has baffled residents and tourists for the past two and a half years. 

The jack-up rigs (self-elevating units) arrived in the country back in October 2019, right after Hurricane Dorian, and have been anchored off shore ever since — making the west end of the island look like an oil drilling site.

Owner of Paradise Cove Beach Resort Barry Smith said the rigs are an eyesore, negatively impacting his business, and he worries about the environmental damage they might have caused.

“We have a lot of people that come to Paradise Cove and think there is drilling going on in The Bahamas when they see those rigs,” Smith said.

“That gives a bad impression and has a negative impact which hurts my business for sure.”

Smith’s Paradise Cove waterfront resort has been an attraction for tourists for years, providing water sports amenities and has a restaurant, bar and rental cottages.

According to Smith, several guests have even walked away from patronizing the resort because the rigs were moored offshore.

“Even though I tried to explain to them that there is no drilling going on, they did not believe me,” he stated.

In March of this year, two of the rigs vanished, without explanation, and left many to wonder where they went, and what the remaining rigs will be used for.

Grand Bahama News learned that the two rigs were shipped to Dubai, with three platforms still anchored off shore. 

Assistant Port Controller Janet Russell confirmed that the remaining three rigs are expected to be transported to Dubai by June and that “there was no drilling at the site”.

Russell also explained, “The new owners of the rigs were engaged in a court matter out of Mexico and ended up with them, then brought the rigs here for safekeeping.”

Before the rigs arrived in 2019, Russell said, the owners requested permission from the Port Department for anchorage.

“Permission was granted, but before the rigs arrived, local divers surveyed the seabed to ensure the equipment would cause no harm to, or damage, coral reefs in the vicinity,” Russell explained.

Local tug towing company, Grand Bahama Independent Pilots (GBIP), was responsible for mooring the rigs under the supervision of the Port Department.

“The Eight Mile Rock anchorage, which is government owned, is managed by GBIP, by an enacted law. They are responsible for charging fees for anything that is anchored out there. The government has given them managerial responsibility for that.”

Grand Bahama News contacted GBIP, and spoke to the president, Kendall Williamson, who confirmed that the company anchored and cared for the rigs, which were fully crewed.

“Since the 60s, we’ve had bunkering and anchorage out in this area,” Williams explained.

“Local divers were employed to make sure there was not damage to the seabed and sounding was employed to make sure there were no caves near the site.

“The rigs came here for safe anchorage. We manage this for the government but there are no anchorage fees for sitting out there.”

This is something Williamson questioned when asked.

Despite the assurances from the Port Department and the tug boat company, Smith said it appeared that the towing company had encountered difficulties during the removal of the two rigs.

“I know that they had an incident where they had to bring in additional tugs when they were moving the rigs. From my understanding, the anchor or mooring broke loose and one of the rigs started floating close to shore,” he said.

“They had to fill ballast and est the rig on the ocean floor to stop it from coming near the shore until the tugs arrived. They were resting in some 14 feet of water.”

Grand Bahama News reached out to the Department of Environment and to the Grand Bahama Port Authority Environmental Department, but neither had any knowledge of the rigs or could give any information on possible damage.

Williamson, who handled the movement of the two oil rigs, said the operation took a lot of time and coordination.

“There were no issues, but it was a big operation,” he said. “The rigs had to be placed on a semi-submersible, and then on another ship and secured to go to Dubai.”

Local environmentalist Gail Woon, founder of EARTHCARE, said she has not personally surveyed the site where the rigs are moored to investigate if there was damage to the coral reef.

However, she stated, “They should be removed and sent back to whatever country they came from.”

These sentiments were echoed by Waterkeepers Bahamas, which has been pushing the Bahamian government to enact oil drilling laws for years.

“For more than two years, the Bahamian people have been left in the dark about the reason why many oil rigs floated in our waters and remained on Crown land,” said Rashema Ingraham, Waterkeepers’ executive director.

“What may have been sanctioned by the previous government is still not being addressed by the current one.

“Despite that, we urge present government to act with transparency on matters affecting the lifestyles, health and business of its citizens.” 

Suspected oil platforms bearing the name Argent on the side in this December 2020 file photograph off the coastline of Deadman’s Reef, West Grand Bahama. (Photo courtesy Our News/Tim Aylen)

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