Illegal rafting flourishing on the Great River

THERE is growing concern in western Jamaica about illegal rafting at sections of the Great River in Lethe, Hanover.

Under the COVID-19 prevention measures, beaches that are not under organised management and control, in addition to rivers, have been ordered closed until June 2.

But this has not stopped the raft operators and, despite reports to the police, they continue to flout health and safety guidelines while ignoring the restrictions implemented under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA).

“The rafting operation is being carried out without any licence or any form of registration…no supervision and nothing that resembles masks or any form of social distancing. There is also no sanitary convenience and no hand sanitisation is being done.

“They also ignore health and safety guidelines outlined by the Tourism Product Development Company [TPDCo],” said a Jamaica Observer source.

He charged that particularly on weekends, the rafts men and their guests can be seen revelling on rafts in the river, drinking and having fun on the riverbanks, with little regard for curfew hours.

“I have brought the matter to the attention of Hanover Eastern Member of Parliament Dave Brown,” said a seemingly frustrated Gladstone Sealy, the police tourism liaison officer for St James.

Sealy noted that the matter is one for the Hanover police but he has become involved because of the tourism aspect. According to Sealy, the illegal rafting operations will be dealt with expeditiously.

In the meantime, Michael Baugh, a TPDCo board director, said he finds the situation most disturbing, especially from the standpoint that the rafters are illegally carrying tourists during a pandemic, and without a licence.

According to Baugh, the matter is a serious one that cannot be allowed to continue.

“We will have to do something because if anything should go wrong, it will affect the country’s image and also tourism on a whole. We have made too many sacrifices as a country…as a people…and have come too far to turn back now,” said Baugh.

When contacted, Brown admitted that he was aware of the rafting and said he would engage the residents in dialogue to address the issue.

Hanover has been a hot spot for breaches of the DRMA for some time, with the police recently reporting that the parish has recorded the largest number of arrests as it relates to persons ignoring the law.

Under the recently amended DRMA persons can face fines ranging from $3,000 to $500,000 for breaches.

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