Boat safety law considered

Two more deaths in the waters surrounding Grand Cayman last week may help push the island’s leaders toward consideration of a separate law aimed specifically at boating and watersports safety.

But Tourism Minister Charles Clifford noted the Cayman Islands have already taken several recent steps to improve the safety of small commercial watercraft both island-wide, and in the heavily traveled tourist destinations of the North Sound.

‘Clearly we’re looking at the whole issue of regulating that industry better than we have before,’ Mr. Clifford said during a Friday press briefing.

Amendments to the Marine Conservation Law that would enhance safety along the sand bar near Stingray City were tabled in the Legislative Assembly late last year. They still require formal approval from Cabinet, and Mr. Clifford expected they would be presented to the entire LA for discussion sometime in February.

The changes would address issues such as how many people can be standing on the sand bar at one time.

‘That will allow us to better regulate the key attractions in the North Sound such as Stingray City and the sand bar, and make that whole operation a lot safer for everyone, including the Stingrays,’ said Mr. Clifford.

Mr. Clifford said a committee is also reviewing the Cayman Islands Port Authority regulations which include minimum age requirements for those operating small commercial vessels; and which determine what kind of safety equipment those craft must have on board.

At this point it’s not certain whether all the changes the government wants to make can be piled into the Port Authority Law, or if the issue needs to be dealt with separately.

For instance, Mr. Clifford said simply regulating how many people can be on a commercial craft while it’s anchored on a scuba diving or snorkeling trip could be handled within the current law. But he said certain topics may fall outside the Port Authority Law’s scope.

‘We may reach the conclusion that the best solution to this is to develop a dedicated piece of legislation which could be called as an example ‘Commercial Boat Operation Safety Law’. But it’s too early to make those conclusions.’

On Wednesday, 24 January two men died in separate incidents involving water activities around Grand Cayman.

One of the victims was a 54 year-old American scuba diver who witnesses said suffered a heart attack on a shore dive near the Sunset House Resort. The other was an elderly Korean man who was found face-down in the water near the sand bar while on a snorkeling trip.

These deaths follow a total of 10 fatalities in 2006 which the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service said were either diving or snorkeling related.

However, Mr. Clifford cautioned people about blaming watersports tour boat companies for those incidents.

‘The gentleman that died in the area of the sand bar was 71 years old. I’m not sure what physical condition he was in, but that may have been a factor,’ said Mr. Clifford. ‘Before we know or are able to determine the cause of these fatalities, we can’t attribute them to any issues in the industry itself. Quite often a lot of these deaths are the result of heart attacks.’

Mr. Clifford said he expected at least some of the water and boating safety issues to be considered during the next meeting of the LA, which is slated to begin in February.