$5M marine base planned

If you took a drive today along Hirst Rd. through Newlands to where the street ends at the North Sound you wouldn’t see much there.

Prince Edward

The Earl of Wessex, Prince Edward, Governor Stuart Jack and Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan discuss plans for the Cayman Islands marine base at its future construction site. Photo: Brent Fuller

But the Cayman Islands government says within the year, construction of a brand new marine base for police, customs and immigration officers should be substantially underway at the site.

His Royal Highness the Earl of Wessex Prince Edward; along with Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack, Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts and Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan visited the area Monday.

‘Government has dedicated nearly $5 million for this project, which will include a purpose-built facility constructed to Category 5 hurricane standard,’ Mr. Tibbetts said.

Royal Cayman Islands Police Superintendent Mike Needham, who is overseeing plans for the base, said it’s a major step in a long-awaited upgrade to the country’s marine defenses.

‘There is no navy here to speak of, so the Marine Unit is probably on the front line for search-and-rescue, boating, matters that occur around the shore,’ Mr. Needham said.

The RCIPS Marine Unit currently has 16 officers assigned to it, along with two boats and three wave runners. Mr. Needham said the 45-foot ‘Cayman Protector’ patrol boat is the largest in the fleet; a 22-foot aluminum boat is mostly used for boarding vessels; and the wave runners generally help crack down on speeding or other boating offenses closer to shore.

The RCIPS plans to acquire four new vessels including a 65-foot patrol boat, two smaller ‘interceptor’ vessels of 36 to 38 feet, and a patrol boat that will be stationed in Cayman Brac.

Mr. Needham said once all three departments are in place at the new marine base there would probably be about 35 total staff available to respond to various marine incidents.

Both Mr. Tibbetts and the RCIPS agree that the island’s Drug Task Force and Marine Unit was not as well provided for in recent years as it should have been. In fact, Mr. Tibbetts said when the current government took office in 2005 the unit was ‘less equipped than when it was first established in 1995.’

‘After Hurricane Ivan the marine side of things went a little awry because we were all doing general police patrols to get the island back together,’ said Mr. Needham.

The new base will be completed in two phases. The first will create a dock basin for housing the new police watercraft, as well as a marine engineering workshop. The second phase of the construction will include the actual marine unit building. A helicopter launching pad will also be installed for emergency purposes.

Right now, the RCIPS rents dock space at Governor’s Harbour for its vessels.

Mr. Needham hopes the two smaller craft the police service plans to buy will be in the water in about four months. He said it would take longer for the larger 65 foot patrol boat, and the boat which will serve Cayman Brac.

As well as improving customs, immigration and maritime enforcement Mr. Needham said having the Hirst Rd. base in the North Sound will help speed emergency responses to any accidents in heavily traveled areas like the Sandbar or Stingray City.

‘When we’ve got all the boats operational, we’ll have more patrols available and out on the water. The location of the marine base is very handy to respond quickly in the North Sound.’

The Cayman Islands has already seen the deaths of two tourists involved in watersports activities this year; one of those incidents happened in the North Sound. In 2006, the RCIPS said there were ten fatalities which involved snorkelers or divers in the islands.