Scuba divers on Blacktip Island say they’ve been forced to pay extra to safely look at the Caribbean Island’s underwater creatures, such as these reef squid.
Blacktip Island authorities announced Thursday they are looking into allegations of an organized crime syndicate targeting scuba divers and the Caribbean island’s dive operations.
Local investigators say a loosely-organized group is extorting money from dive operators and independent divers in exchange for safety while scuba diving.
“Call them ‘wise guys’ or ‘gooddivers’ or whatever, a shakedown’s a shakedown,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Divers are being forced to buy bogus Marine Parks tags, and someone topside’s been chumming for sharks around divers who don’t pay.
Frightened scuba divers recounted a recent encounter.
“We didn’t buy that silly tag,” said Sheena Goode, a guest at Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort. “In the water, these big, bulky guys in all-black dive gear came out of nowhere. One shut off my air. Another one cut my husband’s octo hose.”
Locals say the problem has existed for months, but divers have been afraid to report it.
“Everybody knows it’s Cal Amari’s behind it all,” said a long-time resident, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “He works out of The Last Ballyhoo bar down on the south end. Cal’s got his tentacles in every scuba racket on the island, from cut-rate nitrox to fake dive certs, and he’s hell to cross.
“Last week a shore diver got beat something fierce,” the source said. “Cracked the guy’s kneecaps. He’ll never scull-kick again. And the Blacktip Haven dive boat burned one night after Elena Havens refused to pay for protection.”
Island entrepreneur and restaurateur Amari dismissed the stories.
“Scuba’s risky. People get hurt,” Amari said. “I’m a respectable businessman concerned with the island’s economy. Dive staffs are stretched thin. The worry’s a dive accident could kill Blacktip’s tourism product.
“Do I have people in the water following divers? Sure. For safety,” Amari said. “My guys make sure people stay healthy. These mooks should be thanking us.”
The island’s dive professionals, meanwhile, denied any wrongdoing.
“No, the dive tags aren’t required, but divers love to collect those geegaws,” Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort dive manager Whitey Bottoms said. “Nothing illegal there. Our guests come up smiling. That’s our bottom line.”
Amari shrugged off allegations both he and the island’s resorts have unfairly benefitted from his actions.
“We do business with people who do business with us,” Amari said. “If Sandy’s cash is flowing better lately, good for him. But it’s pure coincidence, not cause and effect.”