By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
TRANSPORT and Aviation Minister Glenys Hanna Martin yesterday announced immediate changes to the water sports industry in New Providence, including increased surveillance of the industry’s operations.
The newly implemented changes include sea-based patrols by Royal Bahamas Defence Force officers on Jet Skis, providing surveillance at beaches, and the recruitment of port enforcement officers.
Mrs Hanna Martin added that she is in dialogue with Minister of National Security Dr Bernard Nottage on the role the Royal Bahamas Police Force will play in securing the beaches where water sports takes place. Officials also said the government has placed a moratorium on new Jet Ski operator licences, a policy that was implemented several years ago.
Mrs Hanna Martin spoke during a press conference at the Ministry of Transport and Aviation on West Bay Street.
Last week, the United States Embassy in Nassau issued an advisory prohibiting its employees from using Jet Ski rentals in New Providence and advised its citizens visiting The Bahamas against using the rentals in Nassau.
This came after police reports that an American woman was allegedly raped by a man with a Jet Ski at Cabbage Beach.
The Cove at Atlantis has also warned its guests against renting Jet Skis on Cabbage Beach, adding that doing so is “at your own risk.”
In response to this series of events, Mrs Hanna Martin said while work began several years ago in collaboration with several government entities and industry stakeholders, additional measures will be implemented.
It is a collaboration with the Ministry of Transport and Aviation, the Port Department, the Port Authority, Royal Bahamas Defence Force, the RBPF and industry stakeholders.
She said: “In furtherance of this collaboration, additional measures will be immediately implemented. These new measures include among other things: a sea-based patrol by RBDF officers on Jet Skis providing surveillance of beach areas during hours of operations, is now in place.
“Beach marshals have been selected from the body of Jet Ski operators which introduces the new and very important component of industry-based self-monitoring.
“This will be combined with the recruitment of additional port enforcement officers who will be in post over the next several weeks. New signage also will be introduced to provide clear directives to patrons of Jet Ski operations.”
She said these additional reforms build upon work already undertaken by the ministry in a commitment to create a rational and well-ordered industry.
Tavares LaRoda, chairman of the Port Authority, said shortly after the Christie administration took office, a comprehensive review of the industry was taken.
He said: “Once that review was finished, in 2014 we would have sent out notices for all of the existing license holders to provide the details necessary to update their licences and persons who did not meet the requirements, the licences then became dormant.
“Commencing January 1, 2015 new restrictions were introduced to each license holder and those restrictions were geared towards addressing some of the concerns which we saw out there. Notably one of the major restrictions was that we prohibited guests from riding on the crafts with operators. That restriction commenced in January 2015 and if an operator is found in breach of that, disciplinary action, including the revocation of the licence could follow.
“In addition to that we made certain requirements that spoke to a licence being suspended automatically at certain trigger events for instance the persons being convicted of a criminal offence or if they are charged.”
Before the licence is reviewed, persons are subject to enhanced police vetting as opposed to the old system where once a person is issued a licence it is reviewed annually without further update, Mr LaRoda said.
He said a moratorium on Jet Ski operator licences, implemented several years ago by Cabinet, remains in place.
Industry operators attending the press conference considered the circumstances surrounding the new changes “a wakeup call.”
Patrick Glinton, of Patrick’s Water Sports, said for years operators have been stigmatised by hotels despite attempts to make changes to their operations, adding that he has noticed some fall out from the US Embassy’s warning.
“In light of what has taken place we can’t really blame them for trying to protect their guests because everything is at stake right now,” he said.
Renwick Rolle, of JR Water Sports, said while he hasn’t seen any fall out from US Embassy’s latest warning, operators have for a long time been perceived as “bad.”
He said: “We look at this as a wake up call for the industry and we would like to collaborate with the US Embassy and also with the hotels because as you can see the operators who are here today is a representation of this industry that we have built from scratch to what it is now. The perception of this business is that all the operators are bad but I want to speak for everyone here.”