It is no understatement that there is an even more concedable need now for us Barbadians to feel comfortable and confident using our beaches and sea, and for us to believe our safety is truly a concern of the powers that be. Such state is a prerequisite for our national peace of mind –– for ours and, we would like to think, no lesser a personage than National Conservation Commission (NCC) general manager Keith Neblett.
We are not unmindful that five or so months back, in response to a national outcry over the significant cut in the numbers of lifeguards on Barbados’ beaches, the NCC sought to assure us that we could yet go sea bathing at little risk –– or no risk.
Mr Neblett and company would have us believe that life and safety on the beaches –– to both native and visitor –– had not been left dangling on the bottom line of the NCC’s account books. And a “properly manned” safety service instituted sometime in May last was approved of –– even though he “had a little question” himself –– by none other than Minister of Tourism Richard Sealy.
The National Conservation Commission boldly declared on the occasion that each beach would have four guards. Not unreasonable under the circumstances; but would have been more admirable and comforting had it obtained for all of our popular beaches. The truth is it did not!
Of the 23 or so most popular Barbadian beaches, six –– by confession of the NCC –– would remain unattended; simply abandoned by the bottom line of the NCC’s account books. They were Silver Sands, Foul Bay, Bottom Bay, Morgan Lewis, Barclays Park and River Bay.
It appeared that for their own safety, sea bathers of these districts, such as River Bay, St Lucy, in the north, and Foul Bay, St Philip, in the south, might be better off journeying to Batts Rock, in St Michael, among the other beaches manned by NCC lifeguards, for a dip and a dive. Also then, it seemed like asking too much for four lifeguards on each of the declared 23 popular beaches of the 70 employed at the announcement by the NCC.
There was that national niggling feeling of mistrust in the safety of beach users of our popular beaches.
We counted our blessings for a while –– until a week and a half ago, when 18-year-old Shaquille Denny drowned at Crane Beach in St Philip. Ironically, Crane Beach has NCC lifeguards posted there. Even more paradoxical, not one was on duty on Thursday, September 11.
NCC boss Mr Neblett explained that three guards had been assigned to Crane Beach [not four], but one was on holiday; another on sick leave; and the other, off duty. Who indeed was responsible for the rostering? Another question is: who else are on holiday and sick leave at what other manned beaches?
No one can swear that had the lifeguards been on duty at Crane Beach, Shaquille would not have drowned. But were they, there would have been considerably increased chances his life would have been saved; and Shaquille’s family members would not have to be wailing for the rest of their lives: “If only . . . !”
This teenager’s demise should stir this dozing National Conservation Commission of ours into recognizing the reality that encircles us. What shall it take to awaken this slumbering giant to the human risks it must properly manage?
We hear nary nothing from Minister of the Environment Dr Denis Lowe, who has policy responsibility for the NCC, and may indeed have to solicit
Acting Prime Minister Sealy’s attention on this critical issue.
Will it take the drowning of some notable tourist for the powers that be to pull their heads out of the beach sand? Will it take the international Press in those circumstances to rebuke us globally for our misstep and reticence before we appropriately and befittingly deal with this matter of life and death on our beaches?
Mr Sealy earlier this year suggested that with the hundreds of visitors, students and others converging on our beaches, none of his “ministry’s partners” had expressed any concern about the shortage of lifeguards. We wait with bated breath to hear the current sentiments of these “ministry partners” in light of the coming “winter season”.
Whatever Dr Lowe and Mr Neblett might feel they have attained by the shrinkage of their lifeguards’ numbers, they are not cutting it with the rest of us. Evidently, the current complement of NCC lifeguards is inadequate for the reduced number of beaches manned. And, sea bathers ought not to be beset by this discomfiture and absurdity.
As stated before, we cannot help but think that despite Mr Sealy’s expressed satisfaction with swimming safety at our beaches, there is yet a deep concern not only for tourists, but our Barbadian “kids”. We wish for no more drownings; and no less than we hope Mr Sealy will not have added to his portfolio Minister of Living In Denial.
Dr Lowe may want to hold on to it!