As the nation gets ready to celebrate 60 years of independence in a few weeks, a few incidents have recently passed by without much notice or the urgency of care they deserve.
In the last week, two citizens and a visiting tourist have died by drowning at three beaches due to what can be only seen as the Ministry of National Security’s continued mismanagement of the lifeguard complement at some of the country’s major sites of leisure.
In the first incident on Emancipation Day (August 1), Point Fortin father of two Otis Morrison drowned after saving an 11-year-old girl from drowning at the popular Guapo beach (formerly called the Clifton Hill Beach).
Mr Morrison’s death could have been prevented, since he was one of the persons who responded to assist the girl because there are no lifeguards stationed at the beach, although it has been a popular destination for sea bathers in South Trinidad for decades.
A few days later, not one but two people lost their lives at Maracas Bay and Tyrico Bay along the North Coast.
In that situation, visiting US resident David Khan disappeared underwater at Maracas and lifeguards and members of the public tried unsuccessfully to find his body until it resurfaced, by which time it was too late. Even as officials were overseeing the removal of Khan’s body, St Joseph resident Joshua Serrette drowned at the neighbouring Tyrico Bay, which also does not have stationed lifeguards.
Morrison’s family called for lifeguards to be installed at the Guapo Beach so that his efforts would not have gone in vain. However, president of the National Union of Government and Federated Workers’ lifeguard branch, Augustus Sylvester, was quick to point out there is currently a nationwide shortage of lifeguards, so that manning beaches will remain a problem.
Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds has never bothered to address the latest calls for this life-saving measure.
The problem of resources and manpower for beaches has been a perennial one. In fact, the media has reported of several instances of citizens being forced to put their lives in danger to rescue others as a result of either the lack of lifeguards or lack of enough lifeguards at beaches.
The current shortage, according to Mr Sylvester, was forecast by the body since 2015, which is to say the problem has never been seen as critical enough to warrant the critical action it clearly deserves. In fact, according to those in the field, while the ministry has engaged in theoretical training of lifeguard volunteers in the past, it has been reluctant to move on to the practical phase with volunteers - meaning these individuals are not fully equipped for the overall job and so unable to boost the overall lifeguard numbers.
So, the question that has to be asked now is how many more lives must be lost on the nation’s beaches for current National Security Minister Hinds or Tourism Minister Randell Mitchell, who must be concerned about deaths at tourist sites, to collaborate to find a solution.
With the school vacation at its peak now, beach safety is certainly critical enough to make an intervention, since scores of families will flock to beach sites. Or do the goodly ministers prefer to see another life lost before they are driven to action?