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Passengers wait to board Buccoo Reef Tour boats at Store Bay, Tobago, yesterday.

Head of the T&T Police Service’s Tobago Division, Senior Supt Anand Ramesar, said yesterday that several Buccoo Reef Boat Tour operators were guilty of violating several COVID-19 safety protocols during the busy Easter weekend.

In particular, many of them loaded their boats beyond the current 50 per cent capacity agreed to as a means of protecting citizens from the disease and also allowed passengers to consume alcohol on board.

Ramesar said many of the reef tour boats functioned more like party boats, culminating in lengthy stops at No Man’s Land. And although there were no reports of charges being laid against any operators by the police, Ramesar said they made the officers’ work difficult during the four-day Easter weekend.

He said the police conducted patrols at No Man’s Land and strategically positioned officers at Store Bay and Pigeon Point to monitor the numbers at the points of boarding. However, Ramesar said some operators were securing passengers for tours at other pre-arranged locations.

With over 10,000 people from Trinidad flocking to Tobago for the Easter vacation, Ramesar called on the public to do their part to ensure that safety standards are maintained.

Contacted yesterday on these reports, president of the Buccoo Reef Boat Tour Operators Association Dexter Black confirmed that weekend was “busy,” especially on Glorious Saturday and Easter Sunday and Monday. However, he said those operators flouting the COVID protocols were in the minority.

“As an association, we tried to talk to them and deal with it internally but that didn’t work. We didn’t receive any reports of persons being charged or any injuries so far, but personally, I would like to see things improve in the future.”

Black said he believes that if there is greater coordination between the various agencies, this would act as a deterrent to the errant operators.

“If boats are being checked by the police on shore, then again by the Coast Guard while at sea and even officials at the Fisheries Department at No Man’s Land, this will be more effective,” Black said.

He said the current Memorandum of Understanding signed between the boat owners and the Fisheries Department should also be reviewed periodically, as the system is relatively new and still going through the “teething stage,” noting conditions will change from time to time.

Just days before the long Easter Weekend, the boat owners were reprimanded by Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis, who responded to news that the ticketing system put in place for tours had fallen apart. Dennis insisted that he would not allow any of visitors to Tobago to be harassed by touts who have returned to the beaches to proposition visitors for boat tours. During last week’s, weekly post-Executive Council Media Briefing Dennis said the TTPS, T&T Coast Guard, Defence Force Reserves and reef patrol officers would ensurer there was order during the Easter weekend.