Maracas Bay lifeguards serve warning to beachgoers

Lifeguards at Maracas Bay are advising members of the public to stay away, saying they will be going at their own risk.

The warning came on the heels of weekend's walkout of on-duty lifeguards as recent serious health and safety concerns in the past three weeks have failed to be addressed by the Ministry of National Security.

The lifeguards are now demanding a meeting with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley as they claim that there are only "empty promises" meted out by the National Security Minister Stuart Young.

Young last met with them regarding their issues last year September and to date, none of their issues have been resolved.

On Sunday morning the average ten lifeguards reported for duty, however, all of them departed their respective posts at about 11 am.

Less than one hour after, a beachgoer got into difficulties.

He was identified as Raj Sonnylal, 29, of Penal, who was employed with Lifestyle Motors.

Lifeguards from Las Cuevas Beach took 30 minutes to respond after Sonnylal was brought to shore.

He was taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital where he died overnight.

In a Facebook post, Lifestyle Motors expressed heartfelt condolences to the family and loved ones of their colleague. 

"Raj Sonnylal, gone too soon. The Lifestyle Motors family would like to take this opportunity to express our condolences to Raj's family. friends and coworkers. Our prayers are with you as we say goodbye to a young man who has impacted us all," the post read.

Speaking with Guardian Media Tuesday, spokesperson for the lifeguards, Augustus Sylvester said for the past three weeks lifeguards at Maracas Bay are faced with serious water problems and raw sewage leaking into the ground floor of the two-storey building.

"Out of six toilets - three upstairs and three downstairs only one downstairs is working. The other one downstairs is bubbling and leaking raw sewage inside the building which is very unsanitary for us. Also, there is no water in the showers only a trickle in the foot pipe," Sylvester said.

"The building is also plagued with rat droppings and the equipment in the stores are contaminated. We cannot function under those conditions and these are things under the Occupational Safety and Health Act," he added.

Augustus who joined the service 32 years ago said there have been existing issues since back then. 

"Basic things we don't have which is no motorised equipment, no boat, no jet skis and no modern fully equipped ambulance...We are working with 1943 equipment and as though we are in caveman days. In the last four years it has gotten worst," Sylvester said.

Sylvester also raised the issue of the service being severely short staffed and added that in the last decade they have trained 30 people and not one has been hired, "We looking on...imagine the maintenance section recently took in 21 people so what's their emphasis? Is it the cleaning of the beach or the preservation of lives?"

For the rest of the week and until their health and safety issues are addressed, Sylvester said lifeguards will continue to report daily to work, sign the book and leave after two hours, "the number one rule in lifeguard service is that our own safety comes first before any other."

When Guardian Media visited the lifeguard building Tuesday afternoon workers were seen carrying out plumbing repairs to the water pump and officials from a pest control company were seen addressing the rat infestation problem and carrying out sanitization works.

A lifeguard on duty said not until all the immediate health and safety issues are addressed the lifeguards will return to their respective posts.

Remedial works are expected to be completed by week's end.

Some beachgoers at the flagship beach Tuesday expressed disappointment in the failure to address the pressing issues faced by the lifeguards and are hopeful for an immediate intervention by the relevant authorities.

- by Rhondor Dowlat-Rostant