Search, rescue operation forming

A new voluntary organisation that will provide 24-hour-per-day search and rescue operations in the waters around Grand Cayman is being set up.

Cayman Islands Search and Rescue will be a non-profit, non-Governmental organisation that will work closely with police and other governmental agencies, said the group’s founder and CEO Richard Neeves.

‘This is certainly something that is needed on the island,’ he said. ‘The police are overstretched and don’t have enough boats. Anything we can do to help them allows them not to use manpower and to concentrate on other matters.’

Mr. Neeves said boaters, fisherman, and divers often need rescues or other assistance. Tourists also need rescues sometimes.

‘We have more than one million tourists annually,’ he said, pointing out that Americans make up a large percentage of those tourists.

‘Americans love a comfort zone, and if they see someone like us out there, they feel better.’

Mr. Neeves said the idea for CISAR came during a visit from his children.

‘I got the idea because my kids like to go for a swim at night off Seven Mile Beach,’ he said. ‘One night when they were out, I thought ‘who would I call if they got into trouble’?’

CISAR will be staffed entirely by volunteers, Mr. Neeves said. The criteria for joining the group is rigorous; the responders have to live and work no more than a 10-minutes from the rescue base, and the must be able to leave home or work without notice or permission on a 24-hour, seven-days-per-week basis.

Mr. Neeves said the organisation will be modelled on the VISAR (Virgin Islands Search and Rescue) organisation in the British Virgin Islands.

‘We’re looking for a professional outfit,’ he said ‘We need to operate in a regimented fashion.’

CISAR already has six young and willing volunteers, which is enough for the organisation to get started, Mr. Neeves said.

‘We’ll probably need 10 to 12 very good people for the rotation in the end,’ he said.

Volunteers will have to go on rotational call, during which they will not be able to drink alcohol or participate in anything they could not leave at a moment’s notice.

‘They won’t receive anything in return except for knowing that if it was them out there, or one of their loved ones, we’d be there to rescue them, too.’

To start, CISAR will acquire four large jet skis with the capability of carrying a life raft in tow. It will set up two bases, one to cover the western shore, and one on the North Sound.

The large horse-powered jet skis, which will always respond to calls in pairs, will be able to rescue people as far as seven miles off shore, and can be used in rough weather, Mr. Neeves said.

During the second phase of its start-up, CISAR intends to purchase a 47-foot Tyne-class, self-righting lifeboat, which will cost more than $200,000, and build a boat house for the craft.

‘The Tyne is a deep-sea, all-weather boat with a 200-mile range,’ Mr. Neeves said. ‘They use them for rescues in the North Sea when it’s crazy, crazy weather.’

Mr. Neeves said the crew of the Tyne-class, like all the CISAR volunteers, will have to be hardy.

Volunteers will have to go through a rigorous training programme, probably off-island, and learn rescue and first aid techniques.

‘There won’t be any 17-year-old jet skiers or people wearing shorts in CISAR,’ he said, noting that volunteers will have to wear uniforms when responding to calls.

Mr. Neeves said he hoped to have CISAR up and running in the early part of 2006.

Attorney Sophia Harris recently filed the memorandum and articles of association for the organisation.

Private funding has already been provided for CISAR’s first two rescue jet skis and associated equipment by attorney Frank Banks.

Mr. Banks said he thought the Cayman Islands needed an organisation like CISAR to help save lives and to relieve some of the burden from the police.

Earlier this year, Mr. Banks won a Mini Cooper in a Rotary Club raffle. Not needing another car, he sold it and decided to donate the money.

‘I like to give back to the community and wanted a good cause to give the money to,’ he said. ‘There are many worthy causes I could have chosen, but I chose this one.’

CISAR has other prominent backers who will sit on its board including West Bay MLA Captain Eugene Ebanks, attorney Clyde Allen and Jonathan Nicholson.

Various government agencies, including the RCIP and the Department of Environment have also pledged their support for the project, Mr. Neeves said.

To meet its equipment requirements, CISAR will have to raise significant funds through private and corporate donations and through a series of fundraisers, including a gala dinner.

Mr. Neeves said Annie Multon Watersports has agreed to donate a modest percentage of each passenger admission on Moby Dick Stingray City trips. He is hoping other organisations follow suit.

Although CISAR will be expensive to set up, Mr. Neeves hopes to find the support he needs.

‘What price would you pay to save the life of one of your loved ones?’ he asked.