Far from fun
In recent times, banana boat rides have sprung up on beaches in Muscat, more at weekends. You can spot the bright yellow banana boats from a distance. Private operators have been offering the water sport at Jebel Sifah, Seeb, Shatti al Qurm and Bandar al Rowdha among other beaches. And though the rides undeniably look like fun, the fruit-shaped inflatable can be dangerous.
Muscat Daily spoke with funseekers whose experience on the banana boats was anything but fun. Fatmah Said Hassan, a homemaker who describes herself as an enthusiastic person, didn’t think twice when her husband suggested they take a banana boat ride after Friday lunch at a popular marina two weeks ago. With her husband, she hoped onto a banana boat that was being towed by a speed boat skippered by a female driver.
“I really wanted to try out the banana boat ride. As we were readying to get on the boat, we were handed out lifejackets which did not fit us. We were told not to worry about the ill-fitting lifejackets and just put them on as they were. My husband was helped to fit into a very small lifejacket and I remember wondering how it would be a life saver,” Fatmah recalls.
The only instructions – safety-related or otherwise - Fatmah and her husband were given was to lean towards the left when the boat went right , and vice versa, to keep balance. “We started off at a fairly slow speed and I thought to myself, 'This is going to be fun. It is all simple,’” she remembers.
But as soon as the driver accelerated, Fatmah started thinking otherwise. “We held on to the handles for our dear lives. As the boat sped up, the waves grew taller and we were bouncing on the banana boat. I wanted to signal the speed boat towing us that it was going too fast for me to bear but I couldn't. We were screaming and flying off the inflatable,” she said, adding that she feared for her life. Being in the first seat of the inflatable only made things worse as she faced the waves with the sea water stinging her eyes.
The woman driving the towing boat looked behind frequently to check on the riders. But despite Fatmah’s efforts to signal her down, the driver didn’t interpret her gestures or hear Fatmah over the roaring engine and rush of waves.
“Bouncing uncontrollably on the inflatable, we were very far from the shore bef-ore we knew it. And then suddenly, the inflatable overturned,” Fatmah recalled with horror.
Not being a good swimmer, Fatmah struggled to keep afloat. She went down a couple of times but the darkness below terrified her enough to desperately thrash around to surface again. “I just knew this was the end of my life. When under water, I was so scared because I didn't know where my husband or the other riders of the boat were. Beating my hands and legs as hard as I could, when I managed to come up to the surface to breath again, I caught a glimpse of my husband that gave me the strength to swim harder to stay afloat.”
A fraction of a second later, she caught sight of the towing boat approaching them. “We tried to help each other around the small boat to find the ladder, but were
exhausted. My hands and legs were painful with exhaustion, but we somehow managed to climb overboard. The moment I felt I was safe on the boat, I just burst into tears because I thought I had been given a second chance at life,” Fatmah said.
According to water safety experts, ban-ana boat rides may seem fun when in fact these are risky and can result in loss of life. “Those who want to try it must be good swimmers. But even good swimmers need to be careful. Anything can happen on these rides. Those in the banana boat business should ensure proper lifejackets of the right size are worn by the riders. That should be made a mandatory measure before anyone is allowed on these rides,” said Tariq al Khabouri, founder of Oman Disabled Divers Association. He recommends proper safety measures for anyone interested in banana boat rides.
“Riders must hold on to the boat tigh-tly at all times. And more importantly, the person towing the banana boat should
be beware of what is a safe speed, besi-des securing the inflatable safely,” Khabouri added.
Fatmah’s husband said he never exp-ected his fun ride to go so horribly wrong. “For the rest of my life, I’ll have nightmares of what happened when I was bounced off the inflatable due to the waves and high speed. I thought my life was done. There were no proper instructions, nor proper fitting lifejackets.”
Realising that his life jacket was ineffective, he held on to his wife who was also drowning. “Knowing my lifejacket would be washed away any time, I held on to my wife. While she was also struggling not to drown, she helped me. She was my hero and she saved my life. Thank God she was near me. We tried to help ourselves around the small boat until we found the ladder but had no strength to haul ourselves over it. We called for help to the driver of the boat who pulled us up,” Fatmah’s husband said. The memory of that banana boat ride will haunt him for the rest of his life.