Claudia Gardner, Assignment Coordinator
More members of the Negril Resort Board have expressed grave concerns about what they say is the failure of the relevant authorities to address their numerous pleas for the banning of jet ski operations in the resort town.
Their calls have heightened after a United States tourist died two weeks ago after being struck by an illegally operated jet ski while he was on vacation at the Travellers Beach Resort in Negril.
Among the concerns raised during the regular monthly meeting of the board last week was that Negril was fast developing a reputation among international tour operators as an unsafe destination.
"We are asking for us to coexist and have officers to enforce the law. I want when we do speak, we speak with one voice. I would like the minutes to reflect that we are not happy with the ministries of Tourism or National Security, nor Rear Admiral Brady (of the Maritime Authority of Jamaica), as they have not communicated directly a final decision … . We don't know of them having made a statement," lamented André Dhanpaul, president of the Negril Chapter of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA).
"Last night, a jet ski operator complained to me, knowing that I am the JHTA chair, that they don't have any money to send their kids to school. So the social problems that we were worried about have already started," he added.
Dhanpaul received support from the Hanover Parish Development Committee representative, Leonard Sharpe, and board chairman Cliff Reynolds, who added that the board would, for the second time in three months, write to the Ministry of Tourism recommending that the ban be imposed.
"The week before this accident, I warned that it's a matter of when somebody is going to die. What we are asking for - between the chamber, the resort board, and the JHTA - is a ban until they are able to regulate the thing. … It is very clear that over the years, we have not been able to manage it based on what is happening, and it is extremely difficult for our Marine Police," Reynolds said.
Among other things, Sharpe called for measures to ensure that the vessels and their operators are properly identified.
"I think we should invite the [tourism] minister to our next meeting - because it is his constituency - as well as the person in charge of the Maritime Authority," he added.
But it was co-owner of the Travellers Beach Resort, Winthrope Wellington, who captured the attention of the members when he recounted the traumatic effects the accident has had on the family of the deceased, and, by extension, his establishment and the resort town.
"I want to make two very strong points on the issue. Everyone knows we have been dealing with this issue for years and years and years," Wellington lamented.
"I think there is a serious gap in the leadership in terms of them understanding what our day-to-day issues are. To them, it's just an unfortunate situation [in which] a tourist has died. But they are not the ones on the beach when there are hundreds of tourists witnessing a man with a gash in his head, from his forehead all the way to the back, and is lying there lifeless; watching people there do CPR for 45 minutes, and his wife is sitting there crying her eyes out, hoping that her husband is going to live.
"And on top of that, they are not the ones dealing with the family … . This man had five kids. They are not the ones that have to go there to the autopsy, take them to the airport, and do all the things that a family needs in times of crisis. And we are the ones at the hotel that have to deal with it on the ground, and that gap needs to be closed. I am sure they appreciate now the ripple effect that the death of a tourist has," he added.
He said the situation was compounded by the fact that the ambulance assigned to the Negril Fire Department was unavailable at the time of the incident.
"People are now questioning the safety of Negril. Everybody who was there knows that no ambulance came. We put this guy in the back of a flatbed; everybody saw that. They are going back to their tour reps and will be reporting that there is no hospital. We fought two and a half years to get this ambulance, and when it was needed, it just wasn't there," he said.
"We are not here to deal with trauma. We are here to deal with guests and hospitality and make sure people come on vacation and enjoy themselves, not to deal with death and despair … and they are putting us in a position where we have to deal with this on a regular basis," Wellington said.