With several people tragically losing their lives at beaches in 2021, Government has to take some blame as it fails to provide lifeguards with the necessary resources to save citizens.
According to National Union for Government and Federated Workers’ (NUGFW) branch president of the Lifeguard Service, Augustus Sylvester, the Ministry of National Security is aware that the unit does not have ambulances, all-terrain vehicles (ATV), jet skis and inflatable rescue boats needed to protect citizens and tourists on the beaches.
Last week, Augustus warned citizens ahead of the Easter weekend that they were at risk at the beaches.
On Sunday, fire officer Stephen Marcano drowned while trying to save his niece, who was swept away by strong currents on Mayaro beach. Marcano’s wife, Patrice, said she called for an ambulance several times after relatives got him out of the water, but none came.
Marcano’s mother, Shirley Bass, believes that if lifeguards were patrolling the beach, her son would be alive.
On Monday, Shivanie Ramkarran drowned on a beach in Guayaguayare.
Sylvester told Guardian Media that Mayaro was among the top three dangerous beaches in T&T as the open waters face the Atlantic Ocean.
“Because of the openness of Mayaro, there are a lot of strong winds, and you will get a lot of rip currents. What happens in Mayaro, people find a pool and tell themselves that they do not have to go far out. That hole is where you have a rip current.
“There is a change of tide every six hours, and they may bathe there for three hours. As the tide changes and you get more turbulence in the water, the current opens up and starts to pull people into the water. A safe place to bathe on the beach is where the ground is firm,” Sylvester said.
Lifeguards were on the beaches over the weekend. Sylvester said the shores of Mayaro is so vast that lifeguards patrol four-eight areas spanning more than 500 kilometres.
“On a beach like Mayaro, it would not be anything strange to have people drown there every week. Especially a place like Mayaro where you have no motorised equipment like ATVs, jet skis and rescue boats, so it is difficult to patrol the area.”
Sylvester said that in 2018, the service had a fleet of 13 vehicles, including three ambulances. Today, none of them work. Following one of several drowning last year, he suggested that the victim’s family sue the Ministry of National Security for failure to protect citizens. He said the lifeguards’ pleads to the ministry for resources were ignored for years.
While staffing is one of several issues, the service trained 60 people over the last decade but are yet to recruit anyone over that time. There are roughly 115 lifeguards to patrol 10 beaches between 10 am-6 pm. However, lifeguards want a workforce of 200 guards to work efficiently. In addition to more face shields and defibrillators, Sylvester said the lifeguard towers are in a state of disrepair.
“The lifeguard towers are not functional. People are vandalising them, and at nights, those towers become hotels and toilets. When we arrive at the beaches in the mornings, we find condoms and panties. Especially in these times of COVID-19, these areas need to be clean. Not all are clean.”