Thursday, March 06, 2014

Environmental Damage or not? You decide for yourself.

On March 3rd 2014 a cruise ship measuring 535 feet, 66 feet wide and a draft of 5 meters dropped two big anchors and hundreds of feet of chain onto the grassy and sandy sea bed inside Falmouth Harbour, a,,,marine protected area. For some time now residents, charservationists have been calling for the authorities to stop this vessel from coming into the Harbour for a host of reas ons. 
Some of the reasons have been environmental concerns based on the fact that the area is a foraging zone for green as well as hawksbill sea turtles, both endangered species. According to the National Parks Website,
"The marine environment is home to several different species of Seagrass, the two dominant species being Turtle Grass and Manatee Grass. Seagrasses are flowering marine plants, which photosynthesize and are hence limited to growth in depths and areas where they have access to sunlight. They provide habitat for many marine species, including juvenile and adult fish as well as crustaceans.  Furthermore, these seagrasses sustain many species, including the Green Sea Turtle. Seagrass also serves to reduce the force of the waves before the get to the coastline. Seagrass beds can be found adjacent to most beaches within the park boundaries."

Since this cruise ship started anchoring in the bay there have been turtles washing up dead to the lee and some suggest that the ship could be responsible. I am not too sure that this is true but their high speed tenders often are seen zooming up and down right though the area where the turtles are feeding. They have quite an array of tenders which are launched from aft as seen in the image below taken from their website.

The image is of one of several dead turtles found washed up during and shortly after the cruise ship has been in the harbour.
There is no way to prove that the ship was responsible for killing these turtles, but there can be no disputing that the area is a valuable foraging area for these species just as the National Parks website suggests. In fact, tour boats like mine often take tourists to see the turtles exactly in the area where the ship has been anchoring.
Another smaller turtle found the morning after Wind Surf had been in the harbour. Notice the damage to it's shell. This is a young green turtle.
Here is a shot of a Navionics Chart which shows the area we are speaking of. Notice the scale in the bottom right of the image. Click on it for a larger version. By the way the soundings are measured in meters. It's very important for the rest of this blog to note the depth on the right hand side of the image between the two red markers. That depth is under 5 meters and the lower of the two marks keeps vessels clear of Bishops Reef. Remember this 535 foot ship has a draft (under the waterline) of 5 meters according to their company website. The grassy beds are scattered throughout the harbour and especially where the ship lays on her huge anchors.
On the morning of March 3rd, she anchored up as she has normally done in recent months with her two big anchors off to the east close to the entrance of the marked harbour entrance. Wind Surf sat just upwind of Dieppe Bay with only a few feet water below its keel. The image below was taken after Wind Surf anchored in her normal position. In the image below taken at 12:04 PM you will notice two other ships outside of Falmouth Harbour sitting on their anchors facing towards the prevailing easterly winds which are normal. However, this photo was taken moments after a very strange weather event. The winds had just switched to the west-south-west. The smaller boats in the Harbour had already swung on their moorings to face the light westerly winds. The three bigger ships were just starting to swing. 

In this next two images below taken over thirty minutes later, the outer ships had swung right around on their anchors like all the other vessels inside Falmouth Harbour (the damage being done to the reef out there is shameful, but that's another story). The photographer had watched the ship slowly drift around on its anchors until came to a stop where it sits in images before. The 535 foot Wind Surf is the only vessel not pointing into the wind in this photo. It also can not be seen to be using any great propulsion to hold her in place. She is only using anchors at the bow. What is holding her in position and preventing her from swinging 180 degrees as all the other vessels have done? Well the answer lies in analysis of the position she is found in relation to the little red marker to her aft. It is difficult to see the actual position in the image below even when you have clicked on it for a larger version. Click here for a larger version.
As you can see she still remains in the same position in this second image taken a short while later from a slightly different position. Click here for a larger version.
The photo below was also taken at the time when I was alerted by several people that she was "aground". Click here for a larger version and please take careful note of the position of the red Bishops Reef mark behind and slightly to port. Most experienced captains who looked at the image below remarked that she looked like she was listing slightly to starboard. Remember that this vessel draws 5 meters and that according to current navigational charts the depth there is between 5 and 6 meters and rapidly getting shallower up to 2 meters immediately on her starboard side. In the photo below her port side anchor is tight against the hull pointing to starboard. The vessel can not go forward in that position and as you can see the silting has started to envelope the harbour. The vessel is doing damage to the marine life there by blanketing corals and sea grasses with silt while she the captain tries to prevent her from being damaged on Bishops Reef which is where the wind was carrying her along the 180 degree swing which all the other vessels including the two cruise ships outside the harbour had just done. The seabed directly under the vessel where she sits in the photo is mostly turtle grass and sand. Video taken the next day shows crushed conch shells and considerable scarring of the sea floor.
Here are a few of the great many images taken. As you can see, the National Parks Authority is correct about identifying turtle grass eaten by the green turtles and many other organisms. Notice the queen conch in the freshly dug up seagrass bed. A little further up there was a crushed conch. We will save that photo and vidoe for a later date. My old buddy Nathan Dundas is the ship's agent and was quoted in the newspaper as saying essentially that the boat didn't touch the bottom, that no turtles forgage in the area and none of their habitat is or has been damaged. There is no question at all that the unusual weather on the 3rd caused the ship to brush up against the sea floor just adjacent to Bishops Reef's mark and that the intense propulsion used to get out of the dangerous position caused considerable silting of the reef and other organisms.

This photo below was taken after one pm and shows a bit of the silting that I am speaking of. By this time they have gotten the ship into deeper water. "Coral polyps, although able to withstand moderate sediment loading, cannot displace heavier loads and perish through suffocation." This was taken from the United Nations Environment Program's site. This level of silting is what you expect during dredging and other heavy construction and every effort to prevent it from coming into contact with fragile ecosystems. As the national parks confirms in their site, turtle grass needs sunlight to live. The photo below shows plenty of sand and silt churned up which is now blanketing corals and grasses. That equates to damage. How can this be disputed by reasonable people? John Maginley, our Minister of Tourism says that what the ship did was nothing out of the ordinary and the same level of silting you would expect after a good rain. I think he is clearly mistaken as is Mr. Dundass. Both people have said that the suggestion that damage was done in unfounded and that the ship didn't touch the bottom. These are some of the photos that we have which we expect proves otherwise. We have reams more evidence including video. We didn't want to publish any of this but the recent articles in Caribarena, The Observer and Antigua Chronicle coupled with statements made on facebook by the Minister forced us to shed a little more light on what happened the other day. Maginley has been telling people and writing on facebook threads that the owners of the ship are going to be taking legal action against me and the Daily Observer for an article where I am quoted as saying that the ship was aground and that The National Parks Authority and Port Authority should not permit a vessel of this size in Falmouth Harbour. I was also quoted as saying that conservationists and residents have been complaining about this ship and the damage that it has been doing to the authorities for months. In fact, I even had a conversation with Minister Maginley about this before the new year. I still stand by what I said and will wait for the court case.
A few more photos for good measure. The first two from the day in question and the other two from another visit. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

With the utmost respect, the Sir Viv commercial doesn't do it for me.

Here is the new Tourism commercial that has just been released to promote the island's sports tourism sector in an industry which is getting more competitive all the time according to this article in Caribbean Journal.
I kinda get what they were trying to do but I'm a 41 year old Antiguan who's never seen Sir Viv play cricket. I know about him and to me his incredible feats are accomplishments I learned about from essentially historical accounts. He's one of our greatest sportsmen for sure, but many here and across the Caribbean don't really relate and for sure hardly any potential visitors from the US have ever heard of him. The golf angle is totally weird and I feel that it's seriously time we market tourism and especially the segment many here are overly obsessed with, Sport Tourism, using younger more dynamic characters. If we are going to use a "star" to market our tourism or sport tourism, then I think we need a rethink. Antigua's America's Cup winner, Shannon Falcone or Antigua's international Kitesurfing sensation, Andre Phillip would be a thousand times more appealing showing off Antigua in my opinion. I mean, think about sailing and how many come to Antigua because of it? Imagine how much trickle down happens in this economy because of sailing. Compare that to golf or even cricket. We really need to examine these sectors carefully and do some very good market research in the future if we want to be competitive. I mean if we had direct flights from India then I would say lets push this all the way, but for now our markets are not all cricket hotspots. Our successful competitors who were cutting cane a few year ago have done the research.
It's time to think outside the box!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Nick Fuller Sr, one of the first of Antigua's Tourism Investors and my grandfather.

My grandfather was a very interesting man. As kids we feared him and from the stories we heard growing up, it was probably for good reason. Anyway, a few years ago we found this online and I think I would like to republish it here just in case the website we found goes down.

Nicholas A. Fuller 1944

1944 Class Crest

Cullum No. 14392 • Mar 4, 1998 • Died in Antigua, West Indies

Interred in Antigua and Barbuda

Nicholas Anthony Fuller was born in Toledo, OH, in 1919. He attended Central Catholic and Waite High Schools in Toledo and the West Point Preparatory School at Ft. Harrison, IN. Before attending West Point, he served in several Army units.
He received an appointment to USMA from Congresswoman Jeanette Rankin of the 1st Congressional District of Montana and joined his future classmates on 4 Jul 1941.
A classmate wrote in the ’44 Howitzer: “The fantastic mind with a body to match. Consistently inconsistent, tough but great-hearted, ‘The Ace’ has been ‘gettin’ knuckles’ from The Fates for too long. With inconceivably little formal education, he proved that common sense is the real essential. His repulsive but conclusive wit and earthy sense of values go to the Air Corps. I’m making book on you, Nick.”
Unfortunately, because of poor eyesight, Nick was not commissioned with his classmates in June 1944. While his eyesight was being evaluated at Walter Reed, he sat for the Foreign Service examinations. Given a disability discharge, he joined Willys-Overland as a research engineer to await the results of the exam. While he was working on a jeep project at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a classmate introduced him to Adele “Del” Marie Wilkens.
After acceptance by the State Department and a “crash course on the basics of life in the foreign service,” he was placed in charge of the American Consulate in Antigua. Following a transfer to Columbia, Nick decided that that revolution-torn country was no place to raise a family, left the foreign service, and joined an advertising firm in New York City.
By this time, he and Adele had married, but, as he later put it, “The leisurely life in the tropics had taken it’s toll, I could not tolerate the white heat of the New York pace for the infernal commuting between Nyack and New York. Hence, I packed my carpet bag and returned to lovely Antigua. I have built a little hotel right on the beach and also own a theater.”
The little hotel, The Lord Nelson, was the first commercial lodging on Antigua. Nick operated it successfully until around 1980, when he went across the island and built “Callaloo” next to Curtain Bluff, the most expensive resort on the island. As a classmate put it, “Nick entertained his friends at Callaloo while Del operated a strictly-for-profit Lord Nelson.” Unfortunately, Lord Nelson was badly damaged in a hurricane in September 1998.
Nick became a legend in the Caribbean. He was known on every island. He and a big Pole named Stash (nobody could spell or pronounce his name, Stanislaw Vishinski), became partners in building fuel depots around the islands for yachts and other private vessels. Nick did the politicking and Stash did the construction.
Nick loved to travel, but he didn’t own a suitcase or a wallet. He carried a sport coat and an open canvas shopping bag containing changes of underwear, several bottles of Glenlivet Scotch, and a box of Cuban cigars (gifts for his hosts, he said). Close inspection would reveal a tie around a polo shirt and one pair of khaki trousers. Otherwise, he was immaculate and dignified.
He didn’t trust wallets. He carried a thick roll of $100 bills crammed into his pocket. He never had a credit card. His only card was an Antiguan driver’s license with a picture of him holding a glass of Scotch. Late in life, he finally got a social security number.
Nick was a character among characters—a star among lesser lights. And Del let him shine. There are legends about Nick’s eccentric behavior. A match for the likes of Hemingway, Nick was surprisingly well read and had a thorough knowledge of world affairs.
Nick never missed a class reunion at West Point. He was extremely proud of his classmates and the West Point tradition. His friends varied from the Mellons of Philadelphia and New York to the nearby goatherd.
Nick and Del had three handsome sons—Nick, Johnny, and Jimmy; and four beautiful daughters—Mary, Jill “Jelly Bean,” Katherine, and Elizabeth “Dee Dee.” Sadly, Mary and Dee Dee preceded him in death. Nick, Jr., became a very respected doctor in Antigua, and John became a prominent and influential lawyer.

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

A little note for my two year old.

Dear Skye, we just celebrated your second birthday a few weeks ago, and this past week we celebrated something even more exciting (for me). We celebrated 7 straight days where you stayed asleep through the night. Well most of the night I guess because waking up for the first time at 4:30 is still something to be happy about.
Today "GrannyRa" mentioned something that I figured I better write down in order not to forget. She said that in years to come when you're giving the old man (me) a hard time about getting up in time for school, I'll remember the past few years and not feel any guilt waking you.

Anyway, for now I'm glad that you've decided to sleep in (until 5 am). Watching the sunrises with you has been better than most things I've ever done. You're awesome and I love you.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

John Gonçalves or "Bushy" to those who knew him.

Yesterday we attended a service for John Gonçalves who we all knew as Bushy here in Antigua. My father gave the eulogy in the Holy Family Catholic Church and spoke about a Facebook piece I wrote for Bushy. Many people after the service asked where they could see it. Some of them are not on Facebook so I decided to repost it here on my old blog site. Please share it with friends who couldn't make it to Antigua.
There's always so much more that we can say about great men who've passed on but here's what I wrote last week on Facebook:

They say a person's formative years are generally those between puberty and adulthood and I think there couldn't be a better way to describe that time in my own life. Who we are really has so much to do with what goes on during that time. Who we spend time with, the experiences we have, the places we live in and around all help "form" the man or woman we become. I was lucky enough to have spent time with Bushy during my formative years and there's no doubt I'm a better person for it. My dad got a used sport fishing boat when I was about 13 and almost every Sunday he went fishing. His first mate was John Gonsalves who we all knew & know as Bushy. Instead of learning how to be a good grown up in church on Sunday, I got my lessons out at sea with a different group of guys. I don't think I've met many people with as much integrity, honesty and empathy as Bushy had. He was as loyal a friend as anyone could find too and very generous with whatever he had. The thing that most will remember him for was his sense of humour. Today on Facebook so many people described him as a character, and for sure he was that too. When I first went fishing with them I'd get sea sick and despite that I eagerly looked forward to each session. We ended up calling our fishing sessions "church". The ritual was something I'll always remember. Leaving at dark with Bushy still a bit tipsy from the night before and smelling of extra strong cologne, getting outside the reef into the usually rough Atlantic, the horrible smells of engine fumes, cigarettes and ballyhoo, interrupted by bushy cooking his special and delicious corned beef in fresh bread for breakfast, bushy hauling in big tuna, Wahoo, dolphin fish and kings, then my his amazing bacalao for lunch. Throughout the day he'd play tricks on anyone who was on the boat. He was one of the funniest guys I've ever met. But more than just a wild funny prank playing character, Bushy was a solid human being. He was careful to make sure he gave me good advice about life and how to live it respectfully. He was so kind to all of my family and especially to my grandmothers. My mom's mom loved Bushy and he would always give her gifts like mangoes and delicious avocados whenever she was in Antigua. During the week he ran the Bolands service station which has a small shop and post office. In fact, he was a postmaster. He also made rum there which hopefully will continue to be made. He was criticized by some people for his weekend drinking and I remember him telling me so many times that he didn't care about what people said because he lived his life to the fullest without bothering anyone. He would love to say that there's only one thing a person has to after they are born and that's die. He preached out there at our "church" that because death was the only sure bet in this short life you better enjoy the time you're given. "As long as you're not hurting anyone, you better enjoy it". It is a lesson that so many fail to learn to their detriment. He was a special person and so many people were touched by him in various ways. When my son was born two years ago Bushy eagerly asked for updates, encouraging me to bring him down for an introduction. When my son was old enough Bushy would send various fresh fruit for him. A year ago we all went out boating for my son's first birthday. It was a beautiful sunday out and the last time we were boating together. Bushy loved Skye and sent the best mangos for him whenever he could get them. One of my son's first sentences was "Bushy mango good!"Today Antigua lost a legend and an unsung hero. He will be missed by many. The world needs more people like Bushy but I don't think we'll find another.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Why the hell would Eli Fuller want cruise ships coming to Barbuda?

As many of you may know or would know just from reading through the years of blog posts below this one, I am very concerned about ecology and conservation. You would also know that I have spent huge amounts of time in Barbuda enjoying the most natural side of our country that anyone can find. Some of my first steps were taken on Barbuda's beaches and some of the my first sights underwater were seen on Barbuda's reefs. I have camped countless nights in the most remote places around Barbuda's coastline since I was a child and still do to this day. Like many others, I would selfishly like Barbuda to remain an undisturbed ecological gem but while we have been holding on to that unrealistic pipe dream, change has come to Barbuda and huge changes are on the horizon.

When I was a little primary school kid my father and his brother would take me and my cousins and brother to Codrington to stay in small rented houses often without running water or electricity. We would walk to one of the wonderful bakeries in the morning for bread and would go to Carter Nedd or Burton for other supplies. In those days there were very few vehicles and no paved roads there. We would go by "Bully" to get gasoline for whatever vehicle we managed to rent or get over to the island. I used to love the smell of the syphoned gasoline. Bully would sell by the container full and would syphon fuel from the metal oil drums which were stored outside his home.
Half of the time we would have flown in to hunt for migratory duck and the other times we would be there to snorkel and fish off the beaches.

I'll never forget how strange it was to be walking though Antigua's airport with shotguns on our way to the plane. Of course, in Barbuda we would have to make sure that the animals were chased off the grass air strip before we landed. There was never any officials at the airport that I can remember.

From the age of about ten we started going to Barbuda by boat for a week at a time during any public holidays. My family never did any other vacation other than going to Barbuda. Spanish Point, Welches, Two Foot Bay, Cedar Tree Point, Hog Hole, and Fishing Creek were our Disney World.

Morris Nedd, known to me as "Tumoch", would always accompany us on our adventures. Vernon Joseph was often with us too. We would often spend a week there without seeing any other Antiguan or Barbudan people. It was simply that remote and that natural teaming with wildlife above and below the waterline. A secret undisturbed paradise is what Barbuda was to me growing up, and that is how I imagined it would stay forever.

I don't have to go into all the changes that have taken place since my first visits there in the seventies but you can imagine for yourself. 230 acres of land was leased to build a small hotel called the K-Club. Palmetto Point hotel was built on 164 acres. Then the Lighthouse Bay hotel was built on 140 acres. Lighthouse has plans to develop along an area which may have the highest concentration of Hawksbill Turtle nests in the Caribbean. Here is an example of what they plan to build in the near future.
As you can see, they have already cleared plenty of the natural vegetation in the image below:
You can read more about their plans on this link.

Some of the other proposals are way bigger and would have much more of an impact on the ecology of the island and everything else that some of us have loved about Barbuda since we were kids. I was told of one proposal recently by a member of the Barbuda Council which would have had the entire east coast leased indefinitely to an entity supposedly connected to the Qatari Fund. There have been two groups of separate Chinese investors visiting Barbuda in recent months who were looking at areas of possible investment in connection with the Citizen By Investment Program (CIP) and I strongly believe that Barbuda is on the verge of a huge change. This change may be good for some and not so good at all for others. Those of us that want Barbuda to remain natural have to understand that the people that live there are tired of being the "forgotten" sister who begs for handouts from Antigua in order to sustain herself. Things are rough in the island's only village and most people there are without work. Unemployment and poverty have started to take their toll in every aspect of life there on the island, and anyone who thinks that things will remain the way they were in the seventies is fooling him/herself. 

Up until now, I haven't said anything about sand mining in Barbuda either, which to be quite honest is how I became involved in trying to bring cruise ships to Barbuda. This article from IPS kind of explains how I got involved. Click here for more
Here is a quote from that article: 

"Calling large-scale sand mining a “destructive and irrational practice”, Eli Fuller, a marine environmentalist, offered alternatives means of income for Barbudans, including light tackle and deep-sea sport fishing. Fuller added that cruise tourism could also be a source of income. “Many of the ships visiting some of the Caribbean’s most celebrated destinations anchor offshore and tender their guests to little docks on the mainland,” he said. “Without any significant investment, this could happen in Barbuda almost immediately. One or two small ships a week could provide significantly more employment than the entire mining industry does in Barbuda,” Fuller added."

According to the Antigua Observer 28/6/12, "Sand mining, which began in 1976, generated around $5 million in revenue annually for the council."
Thousands of barge loads of the most perfect white sand have left Barbuda since I was a kid despite every warning and every bit of expert advice from scientists and engineers saying that this was a bad idea. There have even been legal decisions which supposedly would have ended sand mining in Barbuda and those have been ignored. The local government has even made decisions time and time again to stop mining, but despite all of this barge load after barge load filled with 200+ 20 tonne truck loads of sand leave Barbuda each week. Check this report from 2006 where they made another decision to stop. 

The little money that Barbuda receives doesn't equate to the huge damage that is being done to the island, but they just don't yet have an alternative means of getting income for the council's bills. 

Everyone is entitled to his/her own opinions, and I for one think that building concrete hotels and luxury villas all over Barbuda is the wrong path to walk. It's my opinion that Barbuda's value is today and will always be highest if most of the island remains undeveloped. Think of St. John, USVI for example. If the goal is to help the economy and to get rid of sand mining and other very destructive economic practises (unregulated fishing comes to mind) then it needs to be something sustainable, something that doesn't rely on huge capital investments, something that doesn't leave a mark when it's time has come and gone. Remember that Sustainable Development which is something that we are all supposed to be striving to adhere to refers to (wikipeia quote) a mode of human development in which resource use aims to meet human needs while ensuring the sustainability of natural systems and the environment, so that these needs can be met not only in the present, but also for generations to come.

This is why I suggested cruise tourism as a alternative. There are islands up and down the Caribbean that are smaller than Barbuda and have smaller populations than Barbuda has, that receive regular scheduled cruise stops. I went to one of them recently in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Mayreau is 1.5 square miles and has been receiving cruise ships for twenty years. They use a little wooden dock to receive guests via tenders lowered from the cruise ships moored off shore. The very simple and profitable operation can be seen better through the Wind and Sea website here. You need to click through to the cruise ship section and the island of Mayreau. Have a look to see how simple it is. This tiny tiny island takes a maximum of 2000 guests to their very basic facility on Saline Bay. From there excursions are staged to one of the Caribbean's best Marine Protected Areas, The Tobago Cays. One day, if we are lucky, we here in Antigua and Barbuda will have a marine park as well managed and as rich in sealife as the Tobago Cays!

Of course, this is just one of many ecologically sensitive places that ships visit. The perception that ships are destructive monsters that blaze a trail of environmental catastrophe in their wake is not accurate in 2013. Things have changed and more and more eco sensitive areas are receiving ships in order to provide alternative means of income to their residents. There has to be a balance and after seeing how Antigua's hotels and tourism developments have damaged the environment over the years and as recently as this month, I am more convinced than ever that carefully managed cruise tourism can have a lower environmental impact that traditional hotel developments.

I met with the cruise agents responsible for managing the cruise ships stops on Mayreau and it was interesting to note that the only thing that is left on the island is cash and footprints in the sand. Everything else is taken back to the ship. Compare that to a hotel... I know we need both forms of tourism, but dismissing cruise tourism as bad for the environment is misguided. The list of eco sensitive areas and islands that cruise ships visit around the world is huge.

Another interesting cruise ship list is the list of tiny islands in the West Indies that receive cruise ships. Almost all without cruise ship docks too. Here is a list of 6 "private islands" which are owned by cruise lines. Click here.  There are quite a few more that are not private.

I think that another thing that got me interested in being part of this idea was that if people who are interested in nature, ecology, conservation and ultimately sustainable development are not interested in getting involved, then the inevitable impacts of future developments will be worse as a result. Those of us who care about this stuff have a responsibility to get involved more than just talking and writing. We have attempt to influence the way our small islands are developed. I really don't need the extra work or headache that is involved as you have seen from my last blog, but at the moment I am still prepared to try. 

As a side note, since getting involved in this thing, I have come to find out that designs for a large Barbuda cruise ship dock were paid for recently, and within the past few months there has been some back room lobbying by certain interests to try to make this a reality. One of these dock design representatives tried to get Barbuda Council permission to go and look for financing for the construction of a large cruise ship dock. These are things that I will fight tooth and nail to stop from happening.

The Denco Management website is in the very early stages of development as we explore this initiative on behalf of the Barbuda Council and I will have more info on there in the near future. I just wanted to give some personal perspective on the whole thing because so many of my friends were puzzled.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Why I'm being slandered by two tourism powerhouses.

I am writing this blog post to give my side of a story which I had hoped wouldn't have gotten this far. There are some people who are actively trying to damage my reputation and I have to set the record straight. It's going to be a long one so please don't bother unless you have heard something about my recent trip to Cartagena. 

Several weeks ago I purchased a ticket to attend the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association annual convention in Cartagena, Colombia. The entrance fees, airline tickets and apartment cost me over US$3500, but I felt that this trip was important enough to justify the high expenses. Since 1999 I have been operating my company Adventure Antigua which is an excursion company taking guests by boat around our country. We have four boats taking visitors and local guests on a variety of different and exciting excursions to areas off the beaten track. I employ 19 men and women and also hire subcontractors to do things like catering, transportation and maintenance. I pay my taxes on time too! Since 1999 I have promoted my company and my country on the Internet and have built Adventure Antigua around our reputation on the internet and here on the island. Through my website, I started taking cruise ship passengers independently on my tours in the year 2000 and each year the number of cruise passengers that we take out has grown steadily.

Excursion operators like myself that take guests from ships independently through the use of our own websites or through independent travel agents, are not held in very high esteem by cruise ship executives or their local agents. The main reason for this is that the ships and their local agents profit extremely well from having exclusive contracts with excursion operators where cruise passengers are booked on board the ships to go on their contracted excursions. Usually these are referred to as "ship excursions". 

It has often bothered me that I am not part of the cruise association here locally while taking many cruise ship passengers on my excursions. Having no say in an industry that I somewhat rely upon seems like bad business to me. Many excursion companies have started long after my company and have contracts with ships and attend the annual Florida Caribbean Cruise Association conventions. This year I made the decision to attend one of these FCCA meetings to get a better understanding of how the entire system works and also to decide for myself if it was good for my company to be contracted directly by ship lines. As it happened I was also persuaded earlier in the year to join forces with the Barbuda Council in an effort to attract ships to the shores of our financially troubled sister island. I am spokesperson for a company called Denco which is contracted to represent the Barbuda Council on all cruise ship dealings. I'll talk more specifically about that on another blog post.

Anyway, when you pay your US$900 to attend this convention you are given a clear itinerary of the different talks and seminars that will be given, and also a list of special "one on one meetings" with pertinent cruise executives. 

Six weeks before my departure I wrote a letter to Patrick Ryan of Brysons shipping, the main cruise ship agent here in Antigua asking for a meeting to discuss our Barbuda plans. I never got a reply.
I didn't write to Nathan Dundas, the chairman of the Antigua Cruise Tourism Association, and one of Brysons top executives because I knew he wouldn't reply to me. You see, in 2003 I was chairman of the Antigua Barbuda Excursion Alliance, and I caused great embarrassment to Mr Dundas by exposing what appeared to be a fraud he was orchestrating. It was a very sticky situation where all the boat excursion operators were notified via an announcement in The Daily Observer of a meeting at the ministry of tourism the following day where there would be a discussion on licensing of captains. The next day about thirty excursion operators met at the ministry and were briefed by the then Junior Minister of Tourism, Hilson Baptist. He told us that Mr Dundas, who was standing next to him, was the main agent for the cruise lines that visited Antigua and that he had been contacted by these lines on a very serious matter. According to the Minister, the cruise lines had told Dundas that if the excursion operators didn't have licenses for their captains by the end of the year that they would stop coming to Antigua. He told us that Mr Dundas has located a new company in English Harbour that would be providing the training and testing for these licenses. He then introduced Mr Dundas who pretty much said the same thing. 

The day before someone had notified me that this was going to transpire and I had made a few calls. I was told that Mr Dundas was a major shareholder of this new company which would be handling the licenses. Anyway, when Dundas finished telling us about the costs of instruction and time our captains would need to be off work, it was time for questions. I got to ask the first one. "Mr Dundas, I understand that you are a shareholder in this new wonderful company. Could you tell us if this information is correct?"

For a second, the room was silent and then he spat out a reply that essentially ended that days meeting in chaos. "THAT'S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS". He practically screamed those words at me. The meeting ended with even the minister shaking his head and walking off. I haven't had much dealings with Dundas since then apart from appearing on a tourism panel talk on Observer Radio.
On my first day in Cartagena, I met Dundas in the hall of the main hotel and said hello explaining that I was there with the Barbuda Council. As expected his coldness and disinterest wasn't hidden. For the next two days he and Colin James, Chief Executive Officer at The Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, made every effort to avoid me and my Barbuda associates. There were no questions about how our meetings were going or anything for that matter. I saw them at the Antigua Trade Show booth and asked Colin how things were going. I also asked how the dredging plans for the harbour were coming along. They coldly explained that 3D Construction would be getting started on St John's harbour soon. I was slightly surprised and asked if 3D was bringing in another dredge. They didn't think so, and asked why. I just said that I had watched the little dredge this summer doing a job in Jolly Harbour and would be surprised if they were going to be using the same one in Deep Water Harbour which sounded like a much bigger job. 

The next morning, Tuesday, I had several meetings with top level cruise executives about Barbuda and about my company Adventure Antigua. In the afternoon a special seminar on "Itinerary Planning For the Future. What You Need to Know" was scheduled and as this seemed very important to our plans, I was there early with the other Barbuda continent. The room had seating for about 65-70 but well over 100 turned up early. More and more seats were brought in to accommodate as many as would fit in the room. No other people from Antigua were at this very important seminar.

Four top cruise ship executives gave presentations on how their particular company decided upon a particular itinerary and upon particular ports. This photo shows one of the sides which was shown and refereed to throughout the presentations.

It was very interesting hearing about what made a destination so valuable, and one thing echoed by each presenter really caught my attention. The first to talk about it was, Joanne Salzedo, an executive from Norwegian Cruise Lines and specifically it had to do with lines making painful decisions to stop visiting a destination if and when particular problems went unaddressed for too long. She described ports which had everything going for them with wonderful and profitable excursions, beautiful beaches or other natural landscapes and fantastic ports, and described that sometimes she would make recommendations to her CEO that they stop visiting a port like this because of a problem which hadn't been corrected.
Imagine that! A cruise line happy with a destination but dropping it because of one issue that remained unresolved year after year. Sounds like Antigua could be in danger right? Could this explain some of the cruise ship arrival decline?

After they had all given their presentations there was a question and answer session and many people asked questions of the panel. The Minister of Tourism from Grenada and also The Minster of Tourism from Dominica asked questions. The Tourism Minister of Grenada asked questions, Excursion operators asked questions, port managers asked questions, agents did as well. Each time someone asked a question they introduced themselves and mentioned where they were from and what company they were involved with. I was intrigued and worried with what they had said about dropping ports and decided to ask a question. I introduced myself and said I was from Antigua. I said that I came to this convention to see if I could negotiate excursion contacts after working as an independent excursion operator for 13 years. I said that after graduating from university, I worked in the duty free shopping center at the cruise port and heard about certain problems the ships and their guests faced. When I started my company years later, those problems still persisted and today those same issues were still there. Joanne nodded her head in agreement. I said that considering what they had mentioned a short while earlier about dropping ports that didn't fix problems I wanted to know if they ever considered another tactic that could help ports like ours solve their long standing issues. I said that despite obviously telling our island's cruise representatives about these issues they remained fixed. I asked them if they thought that it would help if they were interviewed by our local media so that people back home could actually hear from the horses mouth what the ships loved and what problems they experienced. I said that possibly coming from them a greater impact could be made back home. The CEO of one of the lines answered by saying something very simple. He said, "Mr. Fuller, our job is the ship and your job is the island". That was good enough for me and I didn't need any further explanation. It was that clear. There are more and more ports coming online each year and more and more money being spent on existing ports. The cruise lines have more choice and making a decision to stop visiting a port isn't as difficult as some would want to believe.
After the seminar finished there was the Trade Show Grand Opening next door. Many different ports had wonderful exhibits and it was a great opportunity to see what other islands were doing to be competitive. As it was winding down one of my Barbuda colleagues and I decided to leave. At that point we saw Nathan Dundas (from Brysons Shipping and The Antigua Cruise Tourism Association) and Colin James, Chief Executive Officer at The Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority looking more cold than usual. We said hello as we walked past, and Colin said he needed to speak with me about something. 

Remember Colin James is a government worker who's paid by our tax dollars. Anyway, he says to me that someone told "them" that there was a person from Antigua in a seminar saying that they (He and Nathan) had no credibility back home in Antigua. I immediately said that I was the only person at this seminar from Antigua that had asked questions and so obviously they were speaking about me. I did say that the person misrepresented me and that he, Colin, should have been there to have heard exactly what I said. I told him that I didn't say that they had no credibility in Antigua. He was clearly upset and told me that I shouldn't have mentioned "Antigua". He suggested that I was damaging Antigua's reputation. I reiterated that he should have been there and that he's got this all wrong thanks to bad info that was brought to him. He was clearly upset, and I told him that he shouldn't be so sensitive to what people say. I also asked why he was getting so upset at the things I did say since I was trying to find a solution to chronic problems that threatened our cruise tourism industry. I asked him if it was a state secret that we had issues at our port? I asked him if the ships were in the dark about taxi issues or dredging problems? 

Nathan then jumps in saying that I simply shouldn't have spoken about Antigua. I reminded them that each person asking question was asked to say where they were from. He angrily snapped back at me saying that I shouldn't have asked any questions. Here we were,  ambassadors of Antigua and Barbuda inside the Cartagena Convention Center clearly having a argument. There were executives there from all the major cruise lines as well as 600+ other industry folk from the Caribbean and around the world walking by us. I was astonished at this coordinated attack from Nathan and Colin, not so much that it was happening but that they chose to have a confrontation in front of all these people. The message that sent was awful and I was very cognizant of that. Remember I have been representing Antigua and Barbuda internationally in sporting events since I was 12 years old, and I know how to carry myself abroad. It was incredibly disappointing to me to be involved in this conflict. I said to Nathan that he had received incorrect information and that he should have been there. This enraged him even more and he shouted at me saying that he'd been in this industry for "twenty seven years" and that he didn't need to attend every little seminar that was offered. (The Ministers of our neighboring islands felt that the seminar was important enough to attend though.) He exclaimed that he had taken Antigua's cruise arrivals from nothing all the way above 700 ships. He yelled at me asking what had I ever done for Antigua? "You're not even an authorized tour operator"!! He screamed. I was so dumfounded that I didn't know how to reply. I asked him what he was speaking about and told him to settle down. He then told me to just get away from there. Again I was surprised and asked him if we wanted to "run" me from this place. "YES! I want to run you!! Nathan Dundas said it several times. "I want to run you. That's exactly what I want." I lost a little of my composure at that point and quietly asked him where he planned to run me. I asked him if he wanted to run me to Guyana. That was a very rude thing for me to have said because of course, he's originally from Guyana, and I said it to upset him. If you're reading this Nathan, I apologize for that. The next thing I told you was that you were a joker. I am not sorry for that!!

In fact, I didn't get a chance to tell the same to Collin James, but because of what transpired during that exchange and overall at the FCCA Conference, I have to say that I think he is also incredibly unprofessional. It's one thing for Nathan Dundas to be unprofessional because he's just an independent business man (despite getting his entrance fee and possibly other expenses provided by the Ministry of Tourism), but Colin James works for the people of Antigua and Barbuda. I am astonished that in this day we have someone like him working for our tax dollars and behaving in the way he did.

I had a chance to sit down for a private lunch with The Minister of Tourism from Dominica the next day, and he was also astonished to hear about what had transpired. He had heard clearly my question during the seminar and thought that there was nothing at all wrong with what I had asked. In fact, I was approached by quite a few other people over the next few days who heard my question and thought it was a good one which provoked a very good and telling answer from the lines. They were also surprised to hear that I had had received harsh criticism from my fellow Antiguan delegates.   

Within no time, the word was being spread to Antiguans at the conference in Cartagena and to people back in Antigua that Eli Fuller was "slandering Antigua", "airing our dirty laundry",  and "damaging our country's name". Weeks later people on the street here in Antigua are telling my friends that I was hurting Antigua's reputation at the FCCA conference in Colombia. Gentlemen outside of the RBBT bank were overheard saying this nonsense just yesterday.

Exclaiming in public at an FCCA conference that I am an unauthorized tour operator and then telling people far and wide that I was damaging Antigua's reputation at the conference is hurtful and damages my reputation. I have spent all of my adult life promoting Antigua and Barbuda. I don't need any pat on my back for the work I do to promote this country but I also don't need to have people slandering me. I don't think there is a person alive that has put more positive Antigua content on the web. Try running through a list of the results after a google search for Eli Fuller Antigua or even better have a look though some of the content I have put online over the years.

Here are a few of my online accounts:
I own and help moderate on behalf of The Ministry of Tourism, because our Tourism Ministry couldn't afford to have their own message board and relied on an old unmoderated forum that internet trolls had taken over. Thankfully we had that one which was tarnishing our country's name taken down. I have been one of only a handful of people actually in Antigua actively writing on the official Ministry of Tourism message boards since 1999. 

I also am active on Tripadvisor's local message board posting in the old days as 365 and more recently as antiguaadventures

I have been one of the only local contributors on the main cruise forum Cruise Critic since 2004. You need to register to see the things I have written on there to help promote Antigua and also to help with damage control. I posted under the name "Antiguan" which you can search for. 

I have provided photography for many international and local tourism related magazines. 

I have also written countless articles about Antigua and Barbuda for international publications in an effort to promote this beautiful and unique destination. 

I also have been featured and interviewed in countless articles about Antigua and also in many pieces for international TV always with the sole purpose of promoting our country as a unique destination.

For these guys to be telling people that I was tarnishing our country's image is asinine and speaks volumes to their characters and professionalism. Neither of them heard me speak and got second hand info from someone who didn't represent what I said correctly. I will continue to promote Antigua and possibly will start taking a more active roll in Antigua and Barbuda's cruise tourim's future.