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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Senator: Lifeguards were promised for Condado beach where boy was swept under

By The Star Staff

After a 12-year-old boy went missing in the choppy waters off a beach in the Condado area of San Juan over the weekend, New Progressive Party Sen. Henry Neumann charged on Monday that the central government had failed in its promise to put at least three lifeguards in the area.

The boy was dragged under by the sea current off the Condado beach on Sunday. The minor was with his brother and a parent at the beach, according to police, when they were dragged down by a strong undercurrent. One of the minors made it out of the water and onto the beach.

Neumann said in a radio interview that during a Senate hearing last year, Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) Secretary Rafael Machargo Maldonado had promised to place lifeguards at beaches in Condado.

The lawmaker was visiting the area as San Juan Emergency Management personnel were observing divers who were in the waters searching for the minor. He said Machargo Maldonado and the Tourism Co. were going to sign a joint agreement to assign three lifeguards to the beach.

“They promised me a year ago, and nothing,” he said.

He blamed it on a lack of will to put lifeguards in the beach areas near the Marriott and La Concha hotels. He said the Condado beaches are some of the busiest in Puerto Rico as tourism officials have worked very hard to promote the island as a tourism destination.

Marchargo Maldonado said he supports the Tourism Co. initiative for the allocation of lifeguards who can patrol the beach. The DNER built a lifeguard tower and posted the necessary signage, leaving the matter of placing lifeguards to other agencies.

Machargo Maldonado lamented the situation with the missing boy but also warned that beaches in Condado are not suitable for bathers.

“That said, it’s important to note that while we support putting lifeguards on Condado Beach, we are concerned that having these rescuers on a beach that is dangerous and unsuitable for bathing could give the impression that it is safe to swim there, putting both beachgoers and lifeguards in danger,” Machargo Maldonado said in a statement.

He said Puerto Rico has about 1,200 beaches, of which some 100 are “balnearios.”

“The distinction is made because, as the term indicates, only the “balnearios” are suitable and safe for bathers,” he said.

“In the case of the beach in Condado, it is not suitable for bathers, it is not safe and the frequent emergency situations in the area are clear evidence of this,” the DNER chief said. “Therefore, our first exhortation is to avoid entering the waters of beaches that are not “balnearios,” as is the [case with the] one in Condado.”

Neumann said he had planned to file legislation to address the lifeguard situation, but did not do so because the director of Tourism and the DNER secretary said more than a year ago that they were going to put three lifeguards in the area.

“I call on the governor of Puerto Rico to take action on the matter,” to ensure that people who visit the island to enjoy themselves at the beach do not have to go through a tragedy like the one experienced by the family of the 12-year-old, he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard called off its search for a British rower Monday morning, after confirming the accidental activation of the rower’s Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon EPIRB, about 360 nautical miles east northeast of Puerto Rico.

Not in distress was Jack Jarvis, 28, from Hampshire, United Kingdom, who was rowing across the Atlantic Ocean, from Portugal to Miami, aboard the 23-foot vessel Budgie, when the vessel’s EPIRB began transmitting a distress signal Sunday afternoon.

“This was a tremendous search effort which highlights the importance of registering your EPIRB as well as the great cooperation with our partners from Virgin Islands Search and Rescue and United Kingdom MRCC, who coordinated with us to locate Mr. Jarvis,” said Cmdr. Beau Powers, Sector San Juan chief of response. “I commend our watchstanders and aircraft crew for their professionalism and out-of-the box thinking, and extend our thanks and appreciation to the M/V Dyna Bulk, which was ready to help us once they received the distress notification. We also appreciate the involvement and cooperation of Mr. Jarvis’ support team, and wish him the best in completing the journey across the Atlantic Ocean.”

Coast Guard watchstanders at Sector San Juan received a report from Virgin Islands Search Rescue in the British Virgin Islands and from the UK Maritime Rescue Coordination Center regarding an unlocated 406MHz Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon alert. The report further relayed that the emergency contact for the alert confirmed it belonged to the vessel Budgie with one passenger aboard. The emergency contact also provided a tracking link with the vessel Budgie’s last known position as of 4 p.m. Sunday. Coast Guard watchstanders issued an Emergency Group Calling to vessel traffic in the area and diverted a Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft from Air Station Cape Cod to search for the vessel Budgie.

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