RECENTLY, the US Embassy warned of increased incidents of sexual assault in New Providence, some of them linked to the “loosely regulated” water sports on Paradise Island.
The Atlantis resort is being unfairly blamed for a criminal incident described by a young American tourist who posted her complaint on consumeraffairs.com on August 28. She claimed that she now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder following an attempt by jet ski operators to sexually assault her on Paradise Island. Another posting by a gentleman who identified himself as her father expressed concerned about how “Atlantis security handled the situation.”
“…The Atlantis wants nothing to do with the situation that gave me PTSD and ruins my life everyday,” the young woman complained.
A spokesman for Atlantis emphasised that the resort ”does everything possible” to warn tourists about engaging in business with jet ski operators and in visiting the nearby Cabbage Beach. He said the resort “makes it clear” that it does not control the beach and warns guests from doing business with water sports operators.
In fact, Atlantis cannot even control its own beach beyond high water mark.
It is really unfair that the Atlantis resort has to take the rap for the Bahamas government and unsupervised jet ski operators. Although it took some time for the government to introduce regulations in an attempt to control the jet ski industry, the regulations were either not tough enough or were not being enforced. The deaths, injuries and accidents continued – although not as many now as in the past. Not only do the hotels with beaches have to take the blame, but the country’s whole tourism industry is jeopardised by young thugs who should not even be near our resort beaches – and certainly not posing as legitimate jet ski operators.
The Tribune has a thick file of jet ski accidents and deaths starting in the early 1990s when in this column we were urging government to introduce legislation to control the industry – and once under control to properly police it.
After a 22-year-old tourist was killed in a jet ski accident in February 1991, the late Dr Matthew Rose, Port Authority Chairman, decided to ban all jet ski operations when licences expired at the end of that year. In the meantime, the operators formed themselves into an association. They went to Dr Rose and pleaded with him to rescind the ban. In return, they promised to discipline their members in an effort to save their businesses. The ban was lifted. However, nothing changed. Mayhem continued on the beaches putting both locals and visitors in jeopardy.
In 2004, executives of the insurance industry told government that it had to “clean up” the water sports industry before it would even consider providing coverage for jet ski operators.
Deaths and injuries mounted. Complaints grew to a crescendo. Hoteliers complained that jet ski operators were putting lives at risk because laws to control them were not being enforced. The public called for a total ban.
In the wake of the many jet-ski and boating accidents that occurred every year in the Bahamas, the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association at the end of 2004 again called for legislation and enforcement.
The British High Commission issued an advisory for the 70,000 UK tourists who annually visited the Bahamas. Said the advisory in part:
“The water sports industry in the Bahamas is very poorly regulated. Every year, people are killed or seriously injured by the improper use of jet skis or other water craft or by the careless or reckless operation of such equipment by others.
“In view of a number of recent fatal accidents, we advise you not to rent jet skis in New Providence and Paradise Island unless you are experienced jet-ski users.”
The death of three-year-old Paul Gallagher in 2003 again turned the spotlight on the dangerous industry in the Bahamas. Baby Paul was asleep at his mother’s side at Paradise Island beach when an out of control power boat moving at 30mph and towing a banana boat lunged onto the beach. As it flew through the air, the propellor hit the child and split his head in two. Five days later, Paul died of his injuries. A British coroner, who reviewed the accident, wrote to then Governor-General Dame Ivy Dumont urging her to get her government to take action to regulate the Bahamas’ water sports industry. It was claimed that at the time of the accident the company that owned the runaway boat was not registered, licensed or insured.
The case was prosecuted in the Bahamas. The Gallaghers came from the UK to give evidence. The manner in which they were treated and the way in which the case was handled in court was nothing to make us proud of our judicial system.
By 2005, undercover documentaries of what went on at some of our beaches shocked viewers.
Dave Garvey, one of the world’s top water sports instructors, was invited to go undercover at one of our tourist beaches. He commented that what he saw in the two days he was there “was just like a nightmare”.
On the programme, broadcast by ITV2, the Port Authority, which licences watersports operators and which is supposed to police their activities, was severely criticised. “Package Holiday Undercover” discovered that in at least one case, a serious conflict of interest existed. The allegations were so damning that government had a duty to investigate. Whether they did or not is anybody’s guess. Then, as now, there was no Freedom of Information Act, the lack of which still keeps Bahamians in the dark.
Yesterday, Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe acknowledged that “the world is watching us”. He said it was imperative for the Bahamas to “have programmes to ensure that our visitors are protected”.
“I must be concerned so I monitor the reports, particularly as it relates to jet ski operators,” he said. “But we have to manage that. That’s something that we have to take very seriously and we have to deal with. It should not have happened (the sexual attack complained of), it should not be happening, and no one coming to our country should be exposed to any form of crime.”
Our advice to Atlantis and all beachside hotels is that they should have signs on which is writ large that the hotel takes no responsibility for any of its guests who engage jet ski operators.
It is now up to the jet ski operators association to carefully screen their members and the government to police them.