Boat safety crackdown coming

One prominent member of the local watersports industry says more enforcement is needed with regard to regulations currently in place governing the safety of vessels in Cayman waters.

Captain Chuckie Ebanks, who is President of the Cayman National Watersports Association, says that while regulations governing the safety of vessels need to be in place, there is a greater need to actually enforce them.

But greater police resources coming on stream in the next year for its marine unit will help increase patrols and greater enforcement of the law, says Royal Cayman Islands Police Services Public Relations Officer Deborah Denis.

Regulations in the current Port Authority Law (1995 Revision) are being flouted by some boat operators, said Captain Chuckie.

These include divers down flags not being taken down once divers are back on the boat. ‘That defeats the purpose of having and using divers down flags,’ he commented, ‘and it shows very little consideration for the regulations.’

While Captain Chuckie points out that the majority of dive boats take down their flag once it is safe to do so, many snorkel boats leave them flying once people are out of the water.

He noted that the police marine unit does patrol the area, but currently without enough boats to do it, there is not enough enforcement.

But patrolling the waters is set to ‘drastically improve,’ according to Ms Denis.

‘The top priority for Police Commissioner Stuart Kernohan is improving border security and border control,’ she said.

The Government has dedicated nearly $5 million for a new marine base for police, customs and immigration officers at Hirst Road in Newlands.

The RCIPS Marine Unit currently has 16 officers, along with two boats and three wave runners. Added to this will be four new vessels, including a 65 foot patrol boat, two smaller ‘interceptor’ vessels of 36 to 38 feet and a patrol boat to be stationed in Cayman Brac.

It is hoped that the two smaller craft will be in the water in about four months, but it will be longer for the larger patrol boat and boat for Cayman Brac to come on stream.

Another problem is boats that pass too close to others that are at anchor, said Captain Chuckie.

The current Port Authority Regulations state that no vessel shall exceed a speed of five knots when within 50 yards of any vessel which is at anchor.

Ms Denis said that incidences of boats passing too close to each other do happen, but they are not often reported to the police. There have been more incidences of this coming to the attention of the police recently, however.

The extra police resources coming on stream are indeed timely as currently the Port Authority Regulations are being updated to enforce greater safety for vessels in Cayman waters.

Also, when the amendments to the Marine Conservation Law come into effect, to better regulate key attractions in the North Sound such as the Sandbar and Stingray City, a dedicated boat with a Department of Environment staff member will be patrolling the area.

‘While one person has the job title, the reality is that all DoE enforcement staff will likely be called upon to assist with the North Sound and wildlife interaction zones from time to time,’ said Deputy Director DoE Tim Austin.

Recently Minister for Environment Charles Clifford said the amendments to the Marine Conservation Law are expected to go to Cabinet this month for approval.

Primarily the DoE only gets involved with infractions concerning the Marine Conservation Law, but they do undertake search and rescue missions when requested, as well as assisting with boats in distress, Mr. Austin noted.

He pointed out that currently the DoE does not get involved with boat safety requirements laid down in the Port Authority regulations, other than if they are likely to impact the marine environment, such as unsuitable anchors and a boat about to leak oil.

However, this is something that is currently under review in the draft of regulations to update the Port Authority Regulations and Law (1995 Revision), as the new draft proposes to spread enforcement of safety requirements to a number of agencies, said DoE Deputy Director Scott Slaybaugh.

He added that in recent years the DoE has had more vessels and officers on the water than the Drugs Task Force and Marine Police and therefore have been more likely to be in a position to provide a quicker response in an emergency or to observe other illegal incidents.

But he said as RCIPS is able to provide more staff and resources, especially in the Sister Islands, the DoE would expect its role to focus more on environmental issues.

‘Regardless of assigned roles or the amount of assets, DoE will continue to assist in emergencies if we are needed and able,’ Mr. Slaybaugh stated.

Captain Chuckie himself is a volunteer Fisheries officer and when he sees anything in contravention to the Marine Park Laws he informs DoE, such as anyone taking fish from the sea unlawfully or anyone standing on coral.

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