By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
IN the wake of a month marred by several shark attacks - including one fatal encounter - Tourism Minister Dionisio D'Aguilar yesterday said the government will review protocols to see how it can "mitigate against" these occurrences.
He also suggested the infrequency of shark attacks, events he described as "freaks of nature", has contributed to the lack of companies which have requisite safety measures in place.
"But now they will," Mr D'Aguilar said. "And so I think that the industry will transform itself based on what has transpired."
The tourism minister also expressed his belief that visitors will select excursion companies which demonstrate having the "necessary safety protocols".
Speaking to reporters following Parliament proceedings, he also underscored the importance of a multi-ministerial approach to this matter, particularly the Ministries of Transport and Marine Resources.
On June 26, Jordan Lindsey of California was killed in a shark attack near Rose Island.
The 21-year-old was swimming with her mother when sharks savaged her. Lindsey's family has criticised tour company Sandy Toes claiming there were no basic medical supplies and no attempts made by staff to save the college student's life.
When asked to respond to these recent attacks, as well as their potential impact on the nation's tourism industry, Mr D'Aguilar noted this phenomena is not exclusive to The Bahamas, while offering his condolences to Lindsey's family.
"As it relates to the shark attacks, first and foremost, I think that there have been numerous shark attacks all up and down the east coast of the United States…I'm deeply saddened of course by the family that, their daughter was tragically killed by the shark," he said.
"And you know it's very hard to - everybody, everybody in the press wants to know 'how is this going to affect tourism', 'how is this going to affect people coming to the country', and it's very hard for one to discuss that knowing that this family has had their loss. And so I always put it in that context. We have to recognise that someone has suffered a tragic loss.
"But, I always say - we have 6.6m foreign visitors come to our country and there are going to be accidents. And there are going to be freaks of nature, which I consider this, the shark attack to be.
"And so, how we react to it and how we respond to it and how we attempt to mitigate it is probably more important. And we're certainly looking- I'm in discussions with the Ministry of Marine Resources, in discussions with the Ministry of Transport that's responsible for licensing boats."
The tourism minster also discussed the issue of enforcing rules as well as the role visitors can play in this matter.
"But, as I always say, writing rules is no problem. It's enforcing the rules that are the problem. And I'm sure that as foreign visitors decide what excursions they're going to go on, they're gong to be a lot more discerning and they're going to go with a business that demonstrates to them that they had the necessary safety protocols in place.
"So, I think that companies (that) probably never even thought, because we have had so few shark attacks over the last 100 years, I think it's maybe three or four, and it's so infrequent, that many companies just didn't take that into consideration in terms developing their safety protocols, but now they will. And so I think that the industry will transform itself based on what has transpired."
Mr D'Aguilar was asked if any rules in particular are being considered.
"Not really… Given the accident that happened last year in Exuma, the Ministry of Transport, well first of all we passed a new act of Parliament as it relates to water sports and water craft and how they should be licensed and all that so, we definitely took that measure," he said.
"Now, how to respond to shark attacks is going to be difficult, but based on what happened we certainly have to review our protocols and what we were doing or were not doing and see how we can mitigate against something like that happening again," Mr D'Aguilar said. "But as I say, it is so infrequent, and based on the history has happened so infrequently, that we may have over looked that."
In June 2018, a horrific boat explosion in Exuma claimed the life of an American woman and seriously injured two others who lost limbs.
The company's owner and one of his captains will stand trial in 2020 over allegations of negligence in the fatal tour boat explosion.
Regarding whether any laws against the practice of chumming or feeding sharks could be implemented, Mr D'Aguilar said that matter must be directed to the minister of marine resources. "My job is to attract foreign visitors to the country and ensure that they have a wonderful vacation when they get here. And obviously that requires me to have discussion with other ministries to ensure that."
On July 4, a 32-year-old American tourist was airlifted to New Providence after being bitten by a shark while snorkelling in waters off Guana Cay, Abaco.
Police officers and EMS personnel took him to the Marsh Harbour Clinic where he was treated for his injuries. He was later airlifted to New Providence for further treatment.
On June 17, 50-year-old American Salvador Ruiz was bitten by a six-foot reef shark while snorkelling in the waters off Waderick Wells Cay, leaving a large gash on his leg.
He was discharged from a Florida hospital on Sunday, where he underwent five surgeries, according to international reports. He will require additional procedures.
Concern that the Bahamas' tourism market could suffer a blow after Lindsey's fatal shark attack has created the impetus for officials to consider a number of measures to protect snorkelers.
On Monday, CEO and Executive Director of the Tourism Development Corporation Janet Johnson, told The Tribune several safeguards are being considered. Stakeholders also want emergency and training protocols put in place, she said.