By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A veteran jet ski operator yesterday conceded the industry is “dying” because of alleged crimes against tourists, admitting it has attracted many “undesirables”.
Renwick Rolle, owner of J.R. Action Water Sports, an operator for more than 30 years, told Tribune Business that the latest allegations of sexual assault on a Canadian woman by a jet ski operator near Paradise Island were “very unfortunate”, and would only fuel the negative stigma surrounding the industry.
“Someone just joked today that ‘you guys need to stop raping the tourists’ and, while I know he was joking, it really speaks to the negative stigma that the entire industry has,” said Mr Rolle.
“This latest incident was very unfortunate. This industry has been around for quite some time. I’m one of the persons who started this industry, and I have seen it grow from nothing to what it is now. It has attracted a lot of undesirables who shouldn’t be in this industry, and that’s part of the problem we are having now.”
Mr Rolle said owners such as himself, who were more hands-on with their operations, self-policed and would not allow such an incident to damage their business.
“I am hands-on with my business. I am invested in this. I don’t just pick up any and everybody to operate a jet ski,” he explained. “We have owners, though, who are not hands-on; they get anyone to operate their jet ski and only care about the money they make at the end of the day. We are not all like that.
“Jet ski operators are supposed to be vetted by police. We have Port Authority officers stationed on the beaches. Operators are also not supposed to ride with guests, so I don’t know how these incidents happen, but they shouldn’t happen if people are doing their job.”
Mr Rolle urged the authorities to ‘tighten up” on the industry. “Authorities need to tighten up and show these guys they are serious,” he said. “Something has to be done. Right now I feel like it’s a dying industry because of these incidents.”
The Ministry of Tourism, in a statement issued yesterday, said it “wishes to acknowledge the gravity of this situation, and to condemn this heinous crime”.
It added: “The safety of our residents and visitors is paramount. Efforts have been made to implement stronger management of the jet ski industry in recent years, but more must be done. Combined efforts by the public and private sectors will be stepped up to ensure that our visitors can enjoy our water sports attractions without fear for their safety or well-being.”
The Ministry of Tourism pledged to work with the Ministry of Transport on “extreme measures” for tougher regulation of the water sports industry.
Last year, amid similar sexual assault allegations, The Cove at Atlantis warned its guests against renting jet skis on Cabbage Beach. It warned that doing so is “at your own risk.”
A copy of a letter to guests of The Cove - one of the Atlantis resort’s hotels – noted: “We are also concerned about your safety and security, and are therefore obligated to bring to your attention a matter related to the use of the beach.” The letter told guests that water sports operators are not associated with the hotel, and that the industry is “minimally regulated.”
In March this year, the US Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) cautioned US citizens travelling to the Bahamas for spring break to “avoid jet ski operators” because these individuals “continue to commit sexual assaults and other crimes against tourists, including US citizens”.
The OSAC also cautioned US Embassy personnel not to use jet ski rentals on New Providence and Paradise Island, including Cabbage Beach and Cable Beach. The department also “strongly” recommended they “avoid patronising Jet Ski rental operations.”
Last year, a 29-year-old jet ski operator was remanded to prison without bail after being charged with the sexual assault of a 24-year-old woman on Athol Island on January 2. As a result of that incident, the US Embassy in Nassau also “prohibited” its employees from using jet ski rentals in Nassau.
In December 2015, police arrested a jet ski operator in connection with an alleged sexual assault of a female visitor. That incident also took place at Cabbage Beach. In 2014, an American woman claimed she had developed post-traumatic stress disorder following an encounter near Paradise Island with jet ski operators who allegedly tried to sexually assault her.