While tremendous effort is expended on providing a good tourist experience on small commercial vessels in Cayman waters this is, unfortunately, to the detriment of safety.
So says the report on Safety of Small Commercial Waterborne Vessels prepared by the Office of the Complaints Commissioner and tabled in the Legislative Assembly by Cabinet Minister Alden McLaughlin on Monday.
‘The evidence leads to the conclusion that some SCV operations function at an unacceptable level of risk. While there are exemplary operators, there are others that fall short of acceptable standards,’ says the report.
The report recommends that new and improved legislation be established to regulate the industry, a process that has already been underway since July.
There are numerous reasons why the risk of a serious marine accident such as capsizing, collision, fire or sinking involving a small commercial vessel exists in Cayman waters.
The evidence that a high risk situation exists is highlighted by many examples, compiled for the report by witnesses.
• Hull damage not repaired;
• Modification of as many as 50 per cent of vessels, often without proper professional design;
• Overloading of vessels or stability limitation in 40 per cent of boats going to Stingray City;
• Poor condition and stowage of lifesaving equipment and failure to maintain fire safety equipment;
• Lack of formal training and certification of crew and operators;
• Widespread lack of operational safety practices;
• Traffic congestion;
• Lack of knowledge of search and rescue operations;
• Consumption of alcohol by crew and operators.
With an estimated 2.6 million passenger round trips annually (on SCVs) ‘this represents a significant number of passengers exposed to risk each year,’ the report says.
The report also explains that minimal safety requirements are imposed on SCVs by the Port Regulations (2003 edition). These include minimum age for operator of 15 years old and presence of buoyant vest for each passenger, life buoys, anchor and rope, bilge pump, sound signalling apparatus, flares and fire extinguishers.
The report notes that there is an existing regulatory regime for submersibles and for tenders owned by cruise ships. However, aside from these port regulations, the other SCVs are not subject to law-based regulatory control for areas such as: construction, operational safety, crew qualifications, inspection, equipment or compliance/enforcement. These SCVs include domestic cruise tenders, coastal ferries, excursion vessels, chartered fishing boats, power boats, adventure boats and personal watercraft for hire currently operating commercially
The report said that as it stands there is no clear and rationalised system for enforcing regulations as between government entities.
Improvement of the current regulatory scheme, proper enforcement and increase in regulation is the way forward, says the report.
‘The improved regulatory scheme for SCVs should include the establishment of a certification regime for masters, mates and crew, a construction, safety equipment and capacity regime, and a rigorous inspection and enforcement regime.
‘It is appropriate to begin with training and certification of crew, with appropriate exceptions for those who have sufficient knowledge gained through years of experience.’
An Inter-Agency Working Group has been formed for the development of Regulations for Small Commercial Vessels and Private Pleasure Craft, which held its first meeting in July, well before this report came out.
The effort is being led by the Port Authority with input from senior government officers.
The report notes that by 1 December this year it should produce for public consultation a Regulatory Impact Assessment document together with drafting instructions for legislation and regulations.
The responsibility for the improved statute-based regulatory regime may be placed with the Maritime Authority or the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands. ‘It is unlikely that the size of the industry can justify the formation of a specialist agency,’ the report notes.
The report came about out of concern expressed by local watersports tour operators and residents regarding the apparent lack of regulation, or enforcement for commercial vessels, especially those that travel to the sand bar.
The capsizing of the Sun Runner in the North Sound of Grand Cayman during the course of the investigation (7 April) added urgency to the investigation and recommendations contained in this report.
Data collected from the Emergency 911 service indicate that a marine emergency report is made, on average, once every nine days. These numbers do not include accidents, drownings or snorkellers in distress.
The report does not include pleasure vessels or other non-passenger carrying commercial vessels such as pilot ships, cargo vessels and fishing vessels or private pleasure craft not operated commercially.