Only four of the 18 lifeguard stations across the island were manned yesterday as rescue personnel continued their sick-out following the termination of 31 colleagues last week.
The DAILY NATION was told that National Conservation Commission (NCC) lifeguards were on duty only at Miami, Pebbles, Brandons and Heywoods beaches.
Throughout the day a number of sea bathers expressed concern about the absence of lifeguards, which they said left them feeling vulnerable. However, one couple visiting from the United States called for visitors to the beach to be responsible for themselves by avoiding the water if they could not swim.
Meanwhile, lifeguards on duty said teams of four or more were needed to adequately cover a beach and with about 60 lifeguards remaining after the retrenchment exercise, the 18 locations normally manned by them would be short-staffed.
One lifeguard said: “If anyone calls in sick or is off, then the towers will have one or two men to cover the whole beach which makes doing patrols and looking out for the people in the water more difficult. Then there is a major challenge with children, when parents are busy relaxing, eating and talking and do not pay them attention.”
At Brandons Beach in St Michael, there was a public event and a large number of people converged on the shore where the tower was manned by two lifeguards. The popular Miami Beach at Enterprise in Christ Church was busy with mostly locals, and a three-member team was on duty. Dover Beach in the same parish was a hive of activity with the usual chairs and umbrellas for rent and many people, mostly tourists, were on the sand and in the water.
English visitors Trina Powell and Nikki Vassal, who were at Dover Beach, said when they got to the beach they noticed right away that the tower was closed.
“On Monday bank holiday it was closed as well. Today Sunday, which is a busy day, it seems strange that it would be as well. That’s not very good,” Powell said.
Vassal expressed concern that if people were unaware of the tides and the currents, it could be dangerous.
“When the lifeguards are here they will advise people. They keep an eye on them and tell them not to go in certain directions, but if there is no one here to do that and people are not accustomed to the water, it is not good,” she said.
One beachgoer at Dover said he knew the beach well and noted that bathers were safest swimming in line with the lifeguard tower or to the east, but if they ventured to the west they could get into difficulty if they were not strong swimmers, given the currents.
Also at Dover Beach was George Brinkop, who is visiting from Arizona, United States, with his wife. He suggested there was no need for lifeguards.
“Everyone is responsible for himself. If you go swimming, learn to swim. Take the responsibility in your hands,” he added.
Two men at Dover Beach whose young children were playing in the surf said it was a shame the lifeguards were absent, but said they would continue to swim at the beach. One man said while he was a good swimmer, with no lifeguards around he would not put the children or himself at any unnecessary risk.
Relaxing at Accra Beach was Sherryann Alleyne, who said she was concerned about the situation, especially since she could not swim. She added that though she would not venture too far into the water, young children were at risk. She recalled that in 2009 her cousin disappeared in the water while swimming at Accra and the body washed ashore in St Lawrence a few days later.
She predicted a negative impact on tourism if the problem persisted, since many visitors to the island used the beaches and if they did not feel safe, they might not be too keen on returning.
A joint meeting involving NCC workers represented by the Barbados Workers’ Union and the National Union of Public Workers is scheduled for today to thrash out the ongoing industrial dispute that arose from the severing of almost 200 of the agency’s 900 employees.