Hundreds of Bahamians attempting to flee the Hurricane Dorian-ravaged island were booted off a ferry bound for the US if they did not have a visa to enter, a report said.
Brian Entin, an investigative reporter for CNN affiliate WSNV, was aboard the Balearia ferry on Sunday when an announcement was made notifying passengers that they must get off the ship if they didnt have the proper documents.
“All passengers that dont have a US visa, please proceed to disembark,” the announcement said, according to a video posted to Twitter by Entin.
According to Entin, hundreds had to exit the ferry, which was leaving from Freeport, Bahamas and headed to Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Renard Oliver, who was aboard the ferry with his infant daughter, was among the passengers who were kicked off.
“At the last minute like this, its kind of disappointing,” Oliver told Entin. “Its hurtful because Im watching my daughter cry, but it is what it is.”
On Saturday, nearly 1,500 refugees traveled to the US on another cruise ship reportedly without requiring visas.
Entin tweeted that passengers aboard the Balearia ferry “were told before boarding it was ok with Bahamian passport and clean [police] record. Something has now changed.”
The US Customs and Border Protection says on its website that Bahamian citizens may apply for admission to the US without a visa if they meet certain requirements, including possessing a valid, unexpired passport, having no criminal record, and having a police certificate issued within the past six months.
In a statement Sunday to CNN, the CBP said it was “notified of a vessel preparing to embark an unknown number of passengers in Freeport and requested that the operator of the vessel coordinate with US and Bahamian government officials in Nassau before departing The Bahamas.”
“Everyone who arrives to the United States from another country must present themselves to a CBP officer for inspection at an official CBP Port of Entry. All persons must possess valid identity and travel documents,” the agency said. “CBP has a Preclearance operation in Nassau. CBP is committed to carrying out our duties with professionalism and efficiency — facilitating lawful international travel and trade.”
The statement continued: “CBP 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.”
Entin interviewed CBP officers early Monday once the boat docked in Florida and one said that if the evacuees stayed on the ferry the CBP “would have processed them” and “vetted them.”
“If those folks did stay on the boat and arrived, we would have processed them, vetted them and worked within our laws and protocols and done what we had to do to facilitate them,” the CBP officer said,