Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer
Some unlicensed jet ski operators in Negril are refuting claims that they are public nuisances and a danger to users of the beach even as the Negril Resort Board is calling for a suspension of their activities.
The jet ski operators contend that rental of the motor crafts is the sole source of income for them and their colleagues, who they estimate to number more than 200. According to them, any suspension at this time would deal a severe blow to them and their families.
"Guests love to ride on the jet skis. We are providing a service that is in high demand on the beach," one operator who gave his name as Mark Smith told Western Focus during a visit to the town on Monday. "We do not set out to pose a hazard to guests because how can we jeopardise our own livelihood? For us riders, the jet ski is our only source of income, so what is going to happen when more than 200 men are left without a job?" he argued.
At a meeting of the Negril Resort Board last week Thursday, members voted unanimously to write to Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeil, requesting a suspension of jet ski operations in the resort town until a review of the policy governing their operations is undertaken and completed.
The move came in light of concerns about what was said to be the huge number of unlicensed jet ski operators, which was causing safety and environmental hazards in the resort town, and a recent accident that resulted in serious injury to a visitor to the island.
Of the estimated 200 jet skis operators who conduct business on the world-famous Negril Beach daily, only six are licensed by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), which means that the majority are unregulated and are operating contrary to the law. However, the unlicensed operators contend that it is the JTB and the Government of Jamaica that are to be blamed for their unlicensed status as no new jet ski licences have been granted in Negril for more than 15 years, despite repeated applications made to the JTB.
In 1997, the JTB imposed a moratorium on jet ski activities in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Negril, effectively suspending the granting of new licences to operate in those parts of the island. In Negril, each licensed operator is allowed to operate six jet skis, which would make the total number of lawful jet skis on the beach, 36.
"We have tried to get the required licence to operate lawfully, but they have stopped granting jet ski licences in Negril. There are only six licensed operators in Negril, and they were granted their licences some 20 years ago," said Charlie, another operator on the beach.
But at least one licensed operator, whose jet skis have been out of operation for the last four months, is in agreement with the possible closure.
"Negril needs to go to more non-motorised, holistic water sports. I really don't plan on getting my jet skis working again. I want people to make money, but safety comes first. Just recently, one of my guests almost got run over by an operator who was drunk and came into my swimming area at full speed," Gail Jackson, proprietor of Negril Tree House, said.
However, with each half-hour ride earning operators a minimum of USD$40, operators are requesting a meeting with the JTB representatives to decide on a solution that would be beneficial to all.