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A problem with jet skis or a problem of disrespect?

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Fri Jul 12, 2013

Editor: There is new battle brewing about whether jet-skis should be allowed in the waters of St Vincent and the Grenadines or not. It is a fair question in my mind and as this is being debated, it shows a rather common trend that these debates follow. The trend lends itself to the voice of a few being louder than the many. The tail wagging the dog scenario is too evident in our society.{{more}}

Seeing that we have no lakes or large rivers in St Vincent, the primary water sports we partake in are ocean based. This is as it should be, as we are on very small islands with much of our identity being our water resource. It is only natural that we would exploit the oceans as much as we can for commercial and recreational activities.

The reality though, is that we don’t and that is amazing. I believe that we are a population that makes the least use of the abundance of water we have at our disposal. One gets the impression that we are renting the ocean from someone who says that we should not use it, except for locating the island.

It is true that very few can swim or do swim in our islands. It is also true that the majority of the population lives on the mainland (St Vincent) which has very few beaches and even fewer of these have bays suitable for swimming or that are indeed safe for swimming.

The most practical and obvious place for enjoying the beach and swimming are the Grenadine islands. Jet-skis are not very expensive and very easy to maintain, and using them for recreation on the ocean is almost a “no-brainer”. Water-sports are not exploited here to the fullest extent by the local population as one would expect.

The debate against jet skis surrounds accidents mainly. Many state statistics of other countries and many are quick to show pictures of gruesome injuries from swimmers being run-over. There is also an interview of a local water-sport entrepreneur starting a petition against jet-skis. I have heard radio programmes with persons noting that if rules are set in place to keep the jet-skis at specific locations, many will break the rules. Others noted that our hospital and emergency system is non-existent with reference to handling such possible injuries from accidents. It is only fair that all have their opinions, but it does not augur well, when they are in essence, limiting the use of the oceans to individuals who can own or rent a speedboat or a yacht, or the fishermen who pluck fish from the dwindling stock in the ocean.

It is true that there are many accidents involving jet-skis. Many cause terrible injuries and some are fatal. What is not mentioned though, is that most of these accidents occur where swimming, snorkelling and operation of speedboats and jet-skis are allowed in the same area. By appreciating the latter, one automatically sees that this does not concur with our own scenario, as we already have so few areas, especially on the mainland where people swim in the open ocean. I find it despicable that persons assume that we are ignorant and that if a rule is set to restrict jet-skis to an area, then we would not have a fine or some sort of punishment for breaking the rules to deter such.

It is amazing that our poor health care facility is now an alibi for a convenient argument. You hear that our health care facilities are not equipped to handle accidents that are common with jet-skis. My view is that if you fall off a yacht whilst trying to hoist the mainsail and break your leg or neck, does it make a difference? Yet still we promote deep-sea diving and we don’t have a single expert or facility to treat Caisson Disease (the Bends). Sometimes it is best to not open a wound when you are not prepared for the necrosis that it exposes.

I know that Vincentians are far more educated and in possession of common sense than many would give them credit. With the knowledge of the experience of many countries, it therefore means that we would have to put measures in place that would circumvent the possibilities that exist with reference to accidents. Obvious requirements would be the use of designated areas and distance from the shoreline for jet-skis, and we have many options. There could be licensing requirements, ensuring that only specific jet-skis of certain capabilities be imported. There should also be compulsory Third Party insurance for liability and age restrictions, along with use of lifejackets and helmets.

I am of the firm belief that the argument here is more about respect and the lack thereof. I have grown to see that many assume that we are a population made up of a pack of idiots that require being saved from ourselves. Many of this group voice that three whales hunted a year in Bequia will endanger whales, but are silent when lobsters are served on their private tables all year round. It brings back the scenario of the Europeans arriving in the New World to “save” the savages, but meanwhile steal the lands, rape the women and enslave the men. Who is the savage then?

This is not much different than when higher taxes were imposed on imported cars when the ordinary man started to get them easily. The resources of this country are not just for the one per cent, but for all. Too often, strategic generation of “save the islands” crops up conveniently to hoodwink people. Not again!!

Dr Wayne Murray

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