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By Orville Williams

Operators of short-term jet ski rental businesses in the country are calling for balance in the possible tightening of restrictions, following increased reckless marine incidents.

There have been extensive public discussions on the actions of jet ski riders with the threat they pose to beachgoers and earlier this year, the Antigua and Barbuda Hotels and Tourism Association (ABHTA) issued a call for increased patrols and enforcement of the regulations, a call seconded by Acting Commanding Officer in the ABDF Coast Guard, Lieutenant Commander Elroy Skerritt.

A recent increase in dangerous occurrences – along with an unfortunate small-craft accident that led to the death of a tourist – have led to the belief that further regulatory decisions could soon be made.

While the jet ski business operators do agree with the need for enforcement for public safety reasons, they do not want to be caught in a one-size-fits-all approach that may negatively impact their business operations. Speaking to Observer on the matter, Javid Wynter, of ACJ Watersports, says such an approach could spell trouble for the jet ski rental business.

“Honestly, I’ve been doing this business for a while now, so if [the authorities] clamp down now, that would be very bad. Most of the tourists that come here, that’s what they come here to do. That’s the first thing they ask for at the time they get out the taxi. It’s jet ski, or fresh coconut water,” he said.

Another jet ski rental operator, Shevon, who was wary of an even more detrimental move, expressed similar concerns.

“On social media … most of the comments you see are to ban jet skis. People are using examples of places that have stricter laws, such as Barbados, the Bahamas and St Vincent. Some of the Caribbean islands [where] you can’t have jet skis whatsoever,” he said.

Shevon says some of the commenters are very influential persons and for that reason, there is a genuine fear that the authorities could side with them and decide to ban jet skis altogether. He says a decision like that would effectively stifle the livelihood of some business owners.

“That’s basically the only business myself and some of my other [colleagues] have, so putting a ban on jet skis would hamper us a lot,” he added.

In the call for a balanced approach, some of the jet ski rental operators are adamant that anything less would be a case of ‘the good suffering for the bad’, as they say most of the reckless behaviour on the water actually comes from private jet ski operators.

Under the Small Craft (Control) Regulations 2017, jet ski operators are expected to abide by several guidelines, including: “depart from and proceed to the shoreline at an approximate 90 degree angle to the angle of the beach area for the first 200 metres from the shore; proceed at a speed not exceeding five knots while closer than 75 metres from the shore (except while departing from or proceeding to the shoreline) and importantly, stay well away from sea bathers and, where an area has been designated for swimming, stay at least 50 metres beyond the outermost boundary of the area, except while departing from or proceeding to the shoreline”.

Just last weekend, there were several reports of jet ski riders causing havoc on some of the island’s most popular beaches, clearly in breach of the established regulations.

As Wynter explained, “I was down on the water Sunday and I saw a lot of private jet skis riding close to shore, racing and all that stuff [and] that is dangerous, because you never know if someone would be there swimming or taking a dive and coming up at the same time.”

Shevon says he too witnessed similar occurrences and called on beach control officers to provide more assistance.

“It’s a lot of work for the Coast Guard…they [beach control officers] could be more forceful in managing the beach and what goes on on the waterfront,” he said.

Wynter is also encouraging the authorities to ensure private jet ski operators are properly prepared to go on the water.

“We’ve been to [the Antigua & Barbuda Department of Marine Services and Marine Shipping] ADOMS and [they] put us on a three-month course before we could get our licence, so I wonder if they do the same thing for the private owners too. Because you cannot be giving us that discourse and then they could just come and get their jet ski passes and be on the water,” he questioned.

Calls to the ADOMS for clarification on the matter proved unsuccessful.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Skerritt could not immediately comment on the situation, but implored individuals riding jet skis to operate within the confines of the existing laws.

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