How many more must drown before authorities step in?

In 1987 the STAR shockingly reported that some seventy percent of Saint Lucians could not swim. Nearly 30 years later, little in that regard has changed. Although surrounded by water, this 238 square mile landmass boasts numerous enticing beaches but no lifeguards. That is, with the exception of the beach near Sandals La-Toc. But lest you are tempted to say the lifeguards are there only for the protection of Sandals’ guests, please disabuse your mind: far more native Saint Lucians have benefitted from their life-saving attention than have visitors.

Vaughn Khodra who lost his life at the popular Pigeon Island beach last Sunday.

Vaughn Khodra who lost his life at the popular Pigeon Island beach last Sunday.

This year alone, four people have drowned at a local beach. The incidents have all occurred between July and August, when typically our beaches are particularly crowded.Following the most recent drowning on Sunday, there have been renewed calls for greater vigilance on our beaches. Increasingly people having been pleading with the government to take seriously the spate of drownings. Among those leading the charge are members of the Saint Lucia Life Saving Association, who are calling for “a sustained program of public awareness on water safety in general.”

Last Sunday, 30-year-old Vaughn Khodra drowned while snorkeling in the clear blue waters near Pigeon Island National Park where he had been celebrating his mother’s 61st birthday. The official cause of death according to his post mortem: “suffocation as a result of drowning”. He is being laid to rest today (Saturday) August 16.

Not too far from where Khodra lost his life is a lifeguard tower that bears a posted sign: “No lifeguard on duty”. Just a week earlier, at a public promotion, a lifeguard was, according to law, provided by the SLLSA. The event was barely over when he handed the promoter his bill, never mind that for most of the time the lifeguard tower was occupied only by well-filled bikinis.

This week the STAR spoke to David Hippolyte, General Manager of the National Conservation Authority, on the issue of lifeguard towers. The NCA is responsible for parks and beaches in Saint Lucia, and is behind the project at Pigeon Island where the lifeguard tower is erected. It is part of a rehabilitation of the area and includes public baths, vending shops and a kiosk. It is also supposed to include a children’s playground, when fully completed.
We asked Hippolyte why, since its completion more than two years ago, the tower has never been manned. His response: “The plan was always to have it manned and we are working with the Lifesavers Association to get this off the ground. We will be taking our cue from them.”

When asked whether he thought there should have been trained personnel in place before the tower was completed, Hippolyte said he could not speak of the plans before his tenure.  He joined the NCA in September of 2012.
“What I can say is that this is something we are looking at and the truth is this project at Pigeon Island is not totally complete. The children’s playground for example, we are working with investors to come up with a management plan,” he says. “The issue of the lifeguards is also something which will have to be properly managed,” he added. Asked about the time frame for the institution of lifeguards on one of the more popular beach and recreational areas on island, Hippolyte could not give a definite commitment.

This week Carol Devaux, president of the Saint Lucia Life Saving Association had this to say about the tower at Pigeon Island; Tthat’s a false sense of security. You shouldn’t have towers if you don’t have people to man them.”Meanwhile Saint Lucians and visitors continue to flock to popular beaches like Vigie Beach, Sandy Beach, Sabwisha, Roseau, Cas En Bas, Reduit and Pigeon Point with no signs of lifeguards or even warning signs. Only the ominously invisible warning: “swim at your own peril”.

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2 Responses to How many more must drown before authorities step in?

  1. Germain Anthony says:

    Hello Toni. Thanks for the article. We always appreciate the media giving some attention to this problem of drowning accidents in St. Lucia. I must point out a few things however.
    The lifeguards at Sandals La Toc were all trained by the St. Lucia Life Saving Association. I am not sure which lifeguard tower you referred to but we have always argued that the one at Pigeon Island is badly situated and poorly constructed. In fact, our association was never consulted on this. That tower’s view is obscured by the two trees in front of it and quite frankly, the stairs are dangerous. You mentioned that “The event was barely over when he handed the promoter his bill.” The lifeguards that we sanction do not carry bills or invoice books.
    Our proposal to the NCA invites the NCA to consider placing lifeguards at peak times on weekends and public holidays at Pigeon Island and Rodney Bay. We know that the NCA supports the initiative. They have even offered a storeroom to store safety equipment. As far as we are aware, the only thing holding this project back is the lack of funding for their agency.
    Mrs. Carol Devaux is not the president of the SLLSA but a former president. More importantly, she is our Technical Director. She leads all activities involving training, water safety education and qualification for awards.

  2. Anon says:

    Before a children’s playground is installed it is essential that there be appropriate safety measures provided.

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