Gov’t eyes jet ski safety crackdown


Tribune Business Editor


The Government is eyeing a safety crackdown on jet ski operators that could result in the industry having to sign up to and abide by a ‘code of conduct’, it was revealed yesterday.

Robert Sands, the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association’s (BHTA) president, confirmed to Tribune Business that the sector was among “stakeholders” present at meetings organised by the Ministry of Transport and Port Department that are seeking to “strike a balance” between visitor safety and allowing jet ski/watercraft operators to earn a living.

Confirming that the hotel and tourism industry has been “pressing” for improved watersports industry regulation and behaviour “for a long time”, he disclosed that the discussions have focused on implementing a “code of discipline” for operators and identifying specific locations where activities can be conducted in a bid to ensure “the country’s reputation” remains intact.

The talks were revealed at last week’s BHTA quarterly meeting, where Mr Sands said: “On March 22, there was another collaborative meeting between the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association, representatives of the Port Department, the Royal Bahamas Police Force and other law enforcement agencies and the Ministry of Tourism to address and discuss matters relating to the watercraft sector, in particular, jet ski operators.”

Pressed for more details yesterday, Mr Sands said the meeting was called by the Ministry of Transport and Port Department. He added that all relevant “stakeholders” were present, with the regulatory agencies also meeting with jet ski operators “to try and work out a methodology by which they can co-exist in the tourism environment in a harmonious, safe [way] and making sure the guests are satisfied”.

However, the BHTA president was quick to add: “No decision has been made. This has simply been some fact-finding on behalf of the Government of The Bahamas. Certainly, it’s an issue that hoteliers have been pressing for a long period of time. Safety is one, I think, that’s the single biggest issue.

“Hotels recognise this [jet skis] is a service tourists want, but it has to be conducted in an environment that all parties are satisfied with and benefit from, and all parties are safe. There were a number of things discussed - location; code of discipline; liability insurance coverage. All of this, identification numbers on watercraft, making sure they have identification of the operators etc.”

Watersports and watercraft, and jet ski operators in particular, have long been perceived as a poorly-regulated sector and a potential threat to The Bahamas’ reputation as a safe tourism destination. The US State Department, in its present Bahamas travel advisory, tries to discourage Americans - who account for up to 90 percent of the visitor base - from patronising the industry due to “safety concerns”.

“Activities involving commercial recreational watercraft, including water tours, are not consistently regulated. Watercraft may be poorly maintained, and some operators may not have safety certifications.  Always review and heed local weather and marine alerts before engaging in water-based activities,” the US State Department advisory states.

“Commercial watercraft operators have discretion to operate their vessels regardless of weather forecasts. Injuries and fatalities have occurred. Due to these safety concerns, US government personnel are not permitted to use independently operated jet ski rentals on New Providence and Paradise Island.  “

Mr Sands yesterday described the Ministry of Transport and Port Department initiative as “a work in progress”. He added that “two sets of meetings” have been held thus far with industry stakeholders, and it was expected that “one or two” more will take place so efforts can be finalised.

“I don’t think it would be fair to discuss the preferred result while we [are still] hearing the views of all parties,” the BHTA president told Tribune Business. “At the end of the day, we are looking for common ground. We’re looking for this to be done in a safe and co-ordinated manner away from the hustling of guests and so forth, but also so that the operators can benefit from the supply and demand of the service.

“A lot of tourists want the service as well, and to come up with agree, identified locations where this can be conducted and managed in a responsible way. I think it’s a move in the right direction.... The jet ski operators offer a service many tourists want, but they have to be managed, have a code of conduct, and we know that the country’s reputation is satisfied and the whole safety issue with tourists is satisfied.”

The ‘code of conduct’ would likely apply, and operate, in similar fashion to the one that is being launched for the Bahamian taxi industry this Friday at Baha Mar. Mr Sands said: “The taxi drivers play a paramount role as ambassadors for tourism.”

Wesley Ferguson, the Bahamas Taxi Cab Union’s president, earlier this week warned this newspaper that “a lack of enforcement” could undermine the industry’s new ‘code of conduct’. He said he wants it to be more than simply “a signed piece of paper” with the authorities employing it as a tool to crack down on misbehaving individuals and apply due penalties for infractions.

“This is very, very important for the industry,” he explained. “As you might be aware, I have been complaining over the past couple of months about having a bunch of new taxi drivers entering the system. Some of them are well behaved, some of them are not. There’s some misbehaviour in the taxi industry.”

Asserting that the code will raise driver standards, help to weed out rogue elements, and improve the guest/visitor experience for those who use taxis, Mr Ferguson said he was unsure whether some are unaware of the “rules and regulations” set to be imposed or they simply do not care.

He added that the code, which is supposed to “outline core values and behaviours of franchise holders and drivers”, will give the Road Traffic Department and its supervisors “clear directions and guidelines so that when an infraction is committed they would know what the penalties are and their course of action”.


temptedbythefruitofanother 3 months, 2 weeks ago

"Code of Conduct", hahahahahhaah

Funniest thing I've heard all day! These "operators" are in reality organized gangs of thugs that roam the beaches selling drugs, beating and raping tourists with impunity. Every few years the authorities claim they are going to "clean up the industry" but of course never do

These criminals and their enablers need to locked up

rosiepi 3 months, 2 weeks ago

When the gov’t says it wants to strike a balance between visitor safety and the ‘operators ability to earn a living’, to which are they referring? The money they earn from their jet-skis for hire, or their drug dealing??

Using this ‘is still a fact finding’ venture and ‘this is a work in progress’ are nonsensical, they’ve been using these ridiculous excuses for decades.

Why do we need to drill down to a code of conduct knowing that these only provide barristers with another legal skewer? Laws are in place so use them, police the beaches and operators.

Who needs to be told hey selling dope is illegal? Who needs to be told, Hey don’t drive your jet-ski and smoke weed! Hey don’t drive your jet-ski at full speed right into the path of someone walking, sitting w/their kids, or swimming at the beach? If someone doesn’t know any of the above is dangerous and criminal, they have no business operating any vehicle anywhere.

Porcupine 3 months, 2 weeks ago

A funny article in that we have been plagued by this behaviour and criminality for how many decades now? And we are still kicking the can down the road? Bahamian Leadership? Where?

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