Scuba divers behaving badly on Blacktip Island dive boats have prompted leaders on the small Caribbean island to assign undercover security officers on charter boats. (photo courtesy of Gage Hoase)
In response to increased altercations on Blacktip Island dive boats, island leaders this week deputized multiple, incognito Boat Marshals, based on the Air Marshal program for commercial aviation, to safeguard dive guests.
“There’s been an uptick in verbal and physical confrontations on boats,” island mayor Jack Cobia said. “Whether because of crowded conditions, bad weather, or just people being cranky these days, it was getting out of hand.
“The shouting matches between dives were bad enough,” Cobia said. “But when guests started flinging weight belts at each other because someone silted a swim through, we had to act. There’s only one island constable, and Rafe can only be so many places at once. He needed help.”
The marshals are former constables with arrest powers, randomly assigned to various dive boats.
“There was no choice. We were taking in the shorts on TripAdvisor,” Sandy Bottoms’ Beach Resort owner Sandy Bottoms said. “And our dive staff’s not trained to get physical with guests. Not that way, anyway.
“Now we’re putting trained officers on the boats, in mufti, looking like any other guest,” Bottoms said. “Usually in tacky shirts and shorts. Or not. You never know. But any yahoo steps out of line, they’ll have a marshal on them like a duck on a June bug.”
The island’s dive professionals welcomed the move.
“It makes our job way less stressful, knowing there’s someone to deal with a-holes,” Blacktip Haven boat captain Dusty Blenny said. “Yesterday some dude got up in my grill when I wouldn’t go to Lucifer’s Grotto. Tried to grab the wheel. The marshal du jour thumped him good and locked him in the head.
“They can disarm you of knives, lionfish spears and tank bangers, you name it,” Blenny said. “Today one stopped a snorkel fight before it could start.”
Dive guests appreciate the change.
“It’s reassuring seeing action taken, on the boats and underwater,” Club Scuba Doo guest Donna Requin said. “This morning a knife fight broke out between a photographer hogging an eel and another photographer who shoved her aside.
“We were all in shock when, WHOOSH, in came a marshal who dragged them to the surface,” Requin said. “By the time we surfaced, the two had already been skiffed off to the jail.”
Some officials worry the program may be a victim of its own success,
“There’s so many incidents, and so few marshals, we’re having trouble keeping their identities secret,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “We keep disguising them, but they still get recognized because of all the YouTube videos.
“Once word gets out, we’re hoping divers’ll behave themselves so we can phase out the B.M.s,” Marquette said. “At that point we’ll repurpose them for bar security Friday and Saturday nights.”