IT HAS taken 26 years for Bahamians to understand the consequences of not properly regulating their water sports industry.
The wake-up call came after it was alleged that an American tourist had been raped over the weekend by a Bahamian riding a jet ski at Cabbage Beach.
Jet ski operators were quick to take action a day after the US Embassy in Nassau announced that it had forbidden its staff to patronise jet ski operations and advised all American citizens not to patronise the Bahamas water sports industry because jet ski rentals in the Bahamas are “only minimally regulated.” It said that the January 2 incident was the fifth sexual assault of an American citizen by a jet ski operator since July 2014.
“As a result,” said the Embassy announcement, “the US Embassy has prohibited personnel under US Embassy Chief of Mission authority from using the services of Jet Ski rental operators in Nassau. This includes Jet Ski operators on Cabbage Beach and Cable Beach. We strongly advise that US citizens do the same and not patronize these services.”
At long last, the jet ski rental industry got the message. They have now vowed to do “whatever it takes” to prevent unlicensed persons from conducting business on public beaches. They say they have had enough of a few “bad apples” ruining their livelihood.
Patrick Glinton, president of Glinton Watersports has vowed to “put the heat on” and get them off the beach. “We let them slide in the past because we knew them personally,” he said, “but now we see what is happening we are going to have to take the bull by the horns and make it happen for us.
“They say it’s a public beach and we can’t tell them what to do, but now this is affecting our business and I am taking no beating for no other man. I will do what we have to do to protect my business. We are taking a stand,” he added.
Sean Lewis, owner of Lewis Watersports, said he doesn’t blame the US Embassy for issuing the advisory and urged the government to “properly regulate the industry.”
“I cannot get mad at the embassy for protecting their people. The government now needs to step in and deal with crime and get some boats in the water to man the water,” he said.
However, a letter writer to The Tribune seems to think that the US Embassy has an obligation to put The Bahamas’ “current economic state” before the safety of their own citizens. Even a jet ski owner understands the position of the Embassy. The Embassy’s first duty is to their own citizens.
However, the letter writer to The Tribune had a different point of view.
“The United States Embassy,” he wrote, “is well aware of the current economic state of The Bahamas and how heavily dependent the country is on its tourist product. Knowing this to be the fact and the options that were available to them in settling the matter at hand, there is no reasonable justification for what I see to be an indirect, political attack on the current administration.”
If this letter writer could see The Tribune’s file dating from 1986 and the faint hearted efforts by the authorities to make our beaches safe for all of us, they might understand that the Embassy has done this country a tremendous service by making operators understand that if they want to stay in the jet ski business they have to take full responsibility, not only for themselves, but for the behaviour of others — they can no longer let anyone slide, because of personal friendships.
The situation got so bad that in 1991 Bahamians demanded that jet skis be banned from The Bahamas. The incident that brought this to a head involved two visiting families who had left their cruise ship to enjoy an afternoon of fun at Cable Beach. They each rented wave runners, one a 12-year-old boy, the other a 22-year-old Argentinian. The waters were choppy. As the two hurtled towards each other, one trying to avoid the other there was a head-on collision. The Argentinian was killed.
Hundreds of Bahamians signed petitions asking the Port Authority to ban jet skis and wave runners. The late Dr Matthew Rose, then Port Authority chairman, did his best to get the industry under control, but the opposition was such from jet ski operators that progress was slow.
The deaths and injuries continued. So did the protests from jet ski operators, going so far as to threaten to take a Port Authority chairman to court for causing them to lose thousands of dollars in business during the peak tourist season.
And then there was the disgraceful handling of the Gallagher case when a British family, enjoying a quiet afternoon on the beach, watched in horror as their infant son, quietly sleeping at their side, was fatally injured by an out-of-control speedboat, which careered up on Cabbage Beach, crushing his pushchair.
In our opinion, and in the opinion of many others, the case was disgracefully handled in The Bahamas.
The report in the London Daily Mail brought furious comments.
“Vote with your feet and avoid these backward, ignorant countries,” said one reader. “Having spent some time in the Bahamas,” said another, “I can vouch for the fact that it is a long way from a tropical paradise.”
And so it went on. The Bahamas got a real verbal beating.
And now we have rape. Whether it was rape by a licensed jet ski operator, or rape by a jet ski owner without a licence is neither here nor there. Rape is rape — no excuses allowed. Our beaches are no longer safe.
We recall the days when Bahamians truly understood what a happy tourist meant to this country’s economy.
Years ago, The Bahamas had only a winter tourist season. The Montagu Beach hotel with its beach across the road was always full during the season. When the season opened, Bahamians, using their own common sense without any restrictions from government, stopped using the hotel’s side of the beach. As far as they were concerned the beach during that period was solely for the use of their winter visitors. However, when the season closed, Bahamians returned to the beach for the summer.
Those Bahamians have faded into history. Today we have Bahamians who think it is their right to mingle with visitors who come to The Bahamas to relax and get away from the hassle of their every day life in their own home towns. The last thing they want to experience is a fresh, uncouth Bahamian.
It is a shame that the US Embassy took so long to speak out. For the first time in more than 20 years it now seems that the watersports industry understands the problem and will fully co-operate to keep our beaches safe for both Bahamians and visitors. Either that, or they themselves will be forced out of business.