KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent – Deputy Director of Grenadines Affairs Herman Belmar is “seriously concerned” about crime against tourists on Bequia as six yachts were broken into during the first week of the tourist season.
“By the end of November, we ain’t got any tourist in Bequia if this is going to continue,” he said Tuesday on WE FM’s “Shake Up”.
Belmar’s call to the programme came directly after Tourism Minister Saboto Caesar telephoned from the United States in response to callers’ concerns about crime against yachters in Bequia.
“I spoke to [Caesar’s Permanent Secretary], I had discussion with the police and we are virtually waiting for his return to the state,” said Belmar, a Bequia resident.
“So we are hoping we can get some of these things resolved very, very soon. The situation is, within the first week of the tourist season starting in Bequia, we have had six boats being raided,” Belmar said.
“Now, if this is going to continue, we’re virtually cutting down the breadfruit tree that is feeding this land,” he added.
“… we are very concerned that these one or two vagrants, … who have these foolish ideas in their head to go out there and try to take away the hard-earned dollar of the tourists, … don’t realise the impact that it is having on the whole economy,” Belmar said.
“The tourism dollar is what pays my salary … and when people go out there and try to take away my bread and butter, I really have to talk about it,” he further stated.
Belmar said the work of the police on the island is becoming “extremely difficult” because residents of St. Vincent travel to Bequia on the evening ferry, commit crimes in the night, then leave the following morning.
“So, the police have to work late in the evening, early at morning to monitor what is going in this place,” he said of cops on the island, one hour’s ferry ride from Kingstown.
He said that Bequia residents have found clothes on beaches, suggesting that burglars swim out to yacht at night and then change clothes before going back to St. Vincent the following morning.
He also complained about person harassing tourist to by things the tourists don’t want to buy and persons with criminal record operating water taxis.
Last week, stakeholders on the island, including government officials and the church, met and discussed the crime situation with the police, according to Belmar.
“And we were trying to make efforts to clean up some of these [abnormalities] in the society,” he said, adding that some persons “are kicking against it”.
“The dollar, at the moment, is what they are looking at,” Belmar said of opponents of the initiatives.
“They are not looking at the long-term future of their children,” he added.
The stakeholders’ meeting suggested that water taxi be licensed and operators wear uniforms.
“So that when people see them, they see something of importance. … Not people going out and smiling you out and want to raid you when you are not there,” he added
Belmar further said that the absence of the Coast Guard on the island contributes to the problem.
He further noted that regional media have reported on the situation, which is also being discussed on social networking websites.
“And when they interface on the social network it makes it worse,” Belmar said as he noted that the yachting sector is one of the biggest contributors to tourism revenue.
“And when you cut down the yachting tourism, what are you telling the nation, hold up your hands and die?
“We are soon going to have to implement austerity measure and nobody want to see that happen in this country,” he said.
“When civil servants start to get laid off it’s because we don’t have money to pay them and when you kill the tourism dollar we don’t have money to pay them either. So this is straight dollars and cents issue that we have to face,” Belmar added.
He said while the criminals “only see the pickings in the Grenadines is ripe” there is long-term impact on the whole economy of the entire country.
“I am getting very worried about this type of thing and I think we as a nation have to condemn it and when we catch these individuals, I hope that the magistrates and the judges will really deal with them severely …
“We have to do something viciously and deal with them viciously so that they leave us to survive as a country,” Belmar said.