Jet ski rides at Mamzar have ended up as a nightmare for many enthusiasts. Image Credit: XPRESS/ ATIQ-UR-REHMAN

Sharjah: Think twice before you go jet skiing at Sharjah’s Mamzar beach. You could end up in a hospital bed (some people have even died) or get scammed or both.

Of late, there has been a frightening increase in the number of accidents, including some mysterious ones, and incidents of extortion and harassment at the popular leisure destination.

Last fortnight a Sharjah police rescue unit pulled out an Indian man from the waters after his jet ski spun out of control and crashed. Too late. The man was already dead. Major Khalid Al Kay of Sharjah Police hinted he could have been saved if he was wearing a life jacket. Why the essential safety gear was missing no one knows. Weeks earlier a similar accident claimed another life. The victim was a 35-year-old Saudi woman. She made it to the hospital but died 17 days later.

The familiar scenario was repeated on December 6 and December 27. Both Ehab Ebrahim, 45, and Daylin Dsouza, 19, suffered serious injuries but mercifully lived to tell their harrowing tales.

“We were a group of three friends so we rented a small jet ski for Dh100 and decided to take turns,” Dubai-based Indian teenager D’souza recounted from his Kuwaiti Hospital bed. “They gave us ill-fitting jackets and warned that we will have to pay compensatory damages if the water scooter develops a snag. It wasn’t the best jet ski. Halfway into the water it started emitting smoke. But since it continued to run, we carried on. Our allotted time of 50 minutes was getting over so I decided to ride it one last time. Suddenly, another jet ski came out of nowhere and rammed into me. The impact threw me into the water, knocking me unconscious. I faintly remember someone pulling me out and taking me ashore. I was bleeding profusely from the left leg. My abdomen was hurt badly too. The pain was excruciating. But instead of giving me first aid, the operators threatened police action and refused to hand back our IDs unless we forked out Dh2,000. We argued that the accident was not my fault but it was pointless. Eventually we had to give in,” said D’souza, who later underwent major surgery for a ruptured intestine.

DELIBERATE ACCIDENTS?

He suspects the jet ski operator might have purposely crashed into him so that he could be forced to pay later. “It appeared intentional,” he told XPRESS.

Egyptian engineer Ehab Ali Ebrahim, 45, and his teenage daughter Hala were similarly hit on December 6. Ebrahim suffered spinal injuries and a fractured vertebrae while Hala, 14, got a head injury. Ebrahim said he’s certain the operators know the culprit’s identity. “I suspect foul play. If he was a customer they would have asked for his ID before renting the ski,” he reasons. The man who hit their vessel remains unidentified.

So are the accidents being caused deliberately and used as a ploy to extort money? It’s a speculation for now, but the dangerous notion is not entirely farfetched because jet ski operators in Sharjah are notorious for using devious means to swindle unsuspecting visitors.

THE GREAT SWINDLE

Instances abound when customers returning jet skis to shore have been forced to pay thousands of dirhams in bogus damages. The jet skis are not insured.

The scam, modelled after a similar racket in Phuket and Pattaya in Thailand, happens in Mamzar every day and with impunity. (See: How the scam works, top left)

In just half an hour on Saturday, January 4, XPRESS saw four tourists terrorised into handing out between Dh1,000 and Dh4,000 to various rental operators.

Most operators denied any wrongdoing and blamed ‘a few rotten apples’ for giving a bad name to their business.

Sixteen companies operate around 160 jet skis at Mamzar.

THAILAND MODEL

Like it happens on Thailand beaches, a plainclothes “policeman” unexpectedly shows up and readily sides with the operators when things get heated.

The “policeman” was there on Saturday too. When asked for his identity card, he got annoyed, saying he was off duty and just helping. When this reporter insisted, he pulled out a Sharjah Police ID card from a beaten private saloon car. The card showed he was a mere driver.

Some Bangladeshi jet ski handlers told XPRESS the “police officer” hangs around the lagoon on weekends and routinely mediates between customers and rental operators. “He is mostly around. When customers cause problems, we call him,” said one of them.

There are other cogs in the well-oiled racket. Like the “friendly bystander” who escorts customers to an ATM if they do not have enough cash, or the mechanics who quote outrageous figures to fix the damages. Never mind the jet ski you’re told will be sent for repairs are back in the waters as soon as you have left. “It happened to me last week,” Lithuanian tourist Leonid Bobrik, 52, recalled. “They made me pay Dh3,000 to cover repair costs and lost business, saying the jet ski would remain in a garage for four days, but when I returned the following evening I saw the same jet ski being rented out to others.”

Shaukat from India, Ayesha from Lebanon, Anwar from Pakistan, Sza from Dubai, Thiab from Sharjah and Marios from Abu Dhabi are among many others who said they were bullied into paying huge amounts to renters.

Most said their negotiating position was weak as they had handed over their passports or Emirates IDs as security for the rental.

In Dubai jet skis are regulated by the Dubai Maritime City Authority (DMCA) and in Abu Dhabi rental firms are required by law to register their watercraft, observe speed limits and all other safety rules related to the use of Personal Watercraft (Jet Ski).

Residents are now calling for similar regulations in Sharjah where jet skis are licensed by the emirate’s Economic Department. “People have died. Something needs to be done. And fast,” said Cezina Dsouza, mother of jet ski accident victim Daylin.

MORE DAMNING TESTIMONIES:

LEONID bobrik, LITHUANIA

“They made me pay Dh3,000 to cover costs of repairs and lost business saying the jet-ski would remain in a garage for four days, but when I returned the following day, I saw the same jet ski being rented to others.”

Sza, Dubai

“My jet ski broke in the middle of the sea on its own. The operators demanded Dh2,000 plus rental charges for the days when they claimed it will be in a garage. They threatened me. Evenutally, I settled with Dh500.”

Hala, Abu Dhabi

“I was given a faulty jet ski. Its battery stalled and the vessel just drifted away. It turned dark and I was stranded all alone in the middle of the sea for two hours. Finally when I was rescued I was told that I had to pay for the battery and for all the hours I was stuck in the sea. What a nightmare! I am never going there again. The whole thing is set up.”

Hisham Majdoub, Sharjah

“Someone rammed into me intentionally and disappeared. I ended up paying Dh500. I informed Sharjah police later and was told these are gang acts to collect money.”

Rafiq, Edinburgh, UK

“We were a group of 11 friends. They demanded Dh6,000 but we refused to pay. They kept our ID and we had to contact the British Consulate.”

A.M., Dudai

“A half-hour ride worth Dh60 cost us Dh15,000. We had no option but to pay. They rent out damaged jet skis and while signing the contract, don’t mark the scratches on purpose so that they can use them against you later.”

Thiab, Sharjah

“My friend and I hired two jet skis and returned them after an hour without any damage. Yet they claimed we caused a scratch on one of the jet skis and demanded Dh3,000. After a long negotiation I paid Dh1,100 to get back my ID.

Brown, New Zealand

“It’s a complete rip off. They intimdiated me into paying $1,200 for non-existent damages. I am not going there again.”

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