A longstanding watersports operator is upset because operators have not been involved in drawing up regulations to heighten safety of water-borne vessels.
Captain Bryan Ebanks of Captain Bryan’s Sail and Snorkel said watersports operators are being left out of the process and have not been consulted throughout the drawing up of the regulations over the past several months.
Drafting the regulations is a multi-agency effort being led by the Port Authority, with input from the Royal Cayman Islands Police, The Maritime Authority, the Department of Environment and the Complaints Commissioner.
Manager Cruise Operations and Security with the Port Authority Joseph Woods said the entire public, including watersports operators, will have the opportunity to give their input into the regulations during the Public Consultation period, which will take place shortly.
He added that in February 2001 the Port Authority had a meeting with the watersports operators concerning safety issues, and feedback received at this meeting was used in drawing up the regulations.
But Captain Bryan dismisses it as ridiculous to use feedback from the year 2001, saying that is so far back he can hardly remember it. That was pre 9/11 and business was very different back then, he said.
‘Things have changed so much since then, and prior to 9/11 we didn’t have the flow of cruise passengers we have now. We had mostly land-based tourism back then,’ he said.
And being able to offer input in the public consultative phase is not enough, he said.
‘We should be involved from the very start,’ he said.
‘We’re the ones that have built up the industry. We should be involved in what is happening in our own industry,’ he said.
The draft regulations are under review. By the end of this month it is hoped to have concluded the proposed regulations, said Mr. Woods, when they will then go to Cabinet and a bill will be drafted for the public consultation period.
Captain Bryan admits certain rules are needed to regulate commercial vessels.
He said he agrees with the amendments made to the Marine Conservation Law, which should have been done 10 years ago.
But he believes that the local operators should be brought together to help create the legislation for the safety of waterborne vessels, which may be made into a brand new law or be in the form of amendments to the existing Port Authority Regulations and Law (2003 revision).
Mr. Bryan agrees groups directly involved in watersports, such as the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s watersports sector or the Cayman National Watersports Association should be involved in the regulation making process by discussing the various issues with the government officials and coming up with solutions.
He said boat trips are a major part of the Cayman Islands’ economy and he is concerned that if there is no consultation with operators and their representatives, the regulations will be unrealistic and unnecessarily harsh.
‘My fear is that if no- one says anything it will be done and by that time it will be too late and they may have hurt the industry, and that, in turn, hurts all of us.’
Mr. Bryan said the agencies involved are not the ones making a living from boat trips and they are not familiar with the sea environment in Cayman the way the operators are.
‘They don’t know the North Sound,’ he said.
‘They will sit in an office and decide the fate of the industry. What sort of foolishness is that?
‘Any regulations drawn up have to be geared toward the specific environment in the waters surrounding Cayman,’ he said.
‘These people will influence lives and the economy with the regulations,’ he said. ‘There should not be an agency with no-one from the industry on it.’
But Mr. Woods said the representatives from the agencies involved are all well familiar with boating in the Cayman Islands, the sea conditions and environment, including the North Sound.
Mr. Bryan said he believes it is predominantly the police who are behind the drawing up of the regulations.
But Mr. Woods insists that there has been equal participation between all agencies involved in drawing up the regulations.
‘No one agency has dominated this process,’ he said. ‘There has been equal participation by all.’
Mr. Bryan does not believe the police should be involved in the development of the regulations at all.
He said the police should be there to carry out the law, not to make it.
‘I thought the work of police is to carry out rules, not to make them, but of course that’s OK if you’re living in a police state.’
Mr. Woods said police need to have input in the regulations or laws being drawn up, as they will be instrumental in enforcing these laws.
Mr. Bryan fears that if new regulations are imposed that make it more expensive to operate excursions, individual operators will be lumped with the extra expense.
‘The cruise ships won’t bear the cost,’ he stated.
With the price of living having gone up considerably in the past couple of years, any more addition to costs will not be good, he said.
Besides, the safety standards in Cayman Islands’ watersports over the past 25 years compare to none, he said.
Just because people of a certain age have died of heart attacks while snorkelling does not mean there should be a blanket rule banning over 55s from boat trips, he said, because then no-one over 55 would visit Cayman.
‘My point is we need to use common sense when bringing in regulations.’
‘We need to be involved in our country’s activities, not excluded,’ he said.
‘We need safer rules laid down in the interest of the public so that everyone is safer and things work better.
‘These people need to get off their high horse from the seventh floor of an office building and come down here and talk to the people,’ he said.