Some jet ski operators at Mamzar work as organised gangs to target unsuspecting customers Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: Devious jet ski operators in Al Mamzar continue to fleece unsuspecting thrill-seekers using bogus damages to their boats as a pretext.

Indian expat Ravi Talreja, who claims to be one of the latest victims, says a Dh50 joy ride he had so looked forward to last month turned out to be a Dh3,000 nightmare.

The long-time Sharjah resident says he realised he had fallen prey to what is an old, elaborate and well-oiled scam after he came across previous reports on the practice by XPRESS.

“It was my first jet ski experience in that part of the city and I never had an inkling that something like this goes on there. All along I thought I was at fault until I came across others recounting exactly the same horrifying story as mine,” says Talreja, who had to shell out an amount 60 times of what he had originally bargained for after accidentally overturning his water scooter.

Intimidated

“I was midway into my hour-long session when I fell into the water. I was trying to swerve in order to avoid a collision with another bike. First I thought it was my mistake but I felt intimidated by one of their gang members, following which there was an accident,” recalls Talreja, originally from Mumbai. He said when a friend helped him to the shore, he was shocked to be handed a Dh5,000 bill for “damages”.

“It was such a shock. I knew my ski hadn’t hit any object, but they were quick to point to a dent apparently caused by me. They claimed water had entered the engine and that the whole vessel needed to be repaired.”

Talreja, a logistics officer at a Dubai pharma company, said he was given two choices – either pay the operators Dh5,000 or get the ski repaired himself, besides coughing up Dh1,000 in compensation for each day’s “loss of business”.

“They had kept my Emirates ID as a guarantee and there was no way I would get it back if I didn’t pay. After haggling for almost half an hour, I was finally able to bring the price down to Dh3,000,” rues Talreja. “When I was bargaining with them, I saw at least two other parties in the same situation.”

Another Sharjah resident Faisal had a similar story to recount. In his case, he managed to bring down the amount to Dh2,500. Last May, XPRESS reported how a group of six European tourists ended up paying almost Dh10,000 following similar jet ski ‘accidents’ in Al Mamzar.

“It has scarred us physically, emotionally and financially. So much so that we will think twice about returning to this place,” said Batuhan Gulsever, 21, who almost missed his flight back to Hamburg along with his five friends after jet ski operators illegally held their passports as a guarantee for damages to waterbikes they had rented for Dh100 per hour each.

It was less than a month after Sharjah Police had launched an awareness campaign in which 60 jet skis were confiscated.

Modus operandi

The scam, modelled after a similar racket in Phuket and Pattaya in Thailand, is said to happen in Mamzar very frequently. There are around 20 companies operating nearly 160 jet skis in the area, with some working as organised gangs targeting unsuspecting thrillseekers.

Just as it happens on Thailand beaches and in many cases here, a plainclothes “policeman” unexpectedly shows up and readily sides with the operators when things get heated. There are other cogs in the well-oiled racket, like a “friendly bystander” who will escort 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 is back in the waters as soon as you have left.

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Have you had a similar experience? How can this racket be checked?

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