Clifford addresses Sandbar closure

Cayman Islands Tourism Minister Charles Clifford acknowledged last week that there could have been better communication with tour boat operators before police decided on 28 March to close the Sandbar area to boat traffic.

Mr. Clifford

Mr. Clifford

‘There should have been wider consultation before the final decision was made,’ Mr. Clifford said Friday.

The head of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Marine Unit apologised to tour boat operators who lost money from the closure. But Superintendent Mike Needham said he stands firmly behind the decision to shut down the Sandbar because of safety reasons.

More than a dozen tour boat operators called the move either uninformed or an overreaction.

‘The worst day of tourism that has ever been known in the Cayman Islands was (Wednesday, 28 March),’ tour boat operator Frank Ebanks said at a national tourism policy meeting in West Bay last week.

Mr. Clifford denied that characterisation, and said he fully understood the reasons behind the RCIPS decision.

‘I’m sure that when the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, and then Hurricane Ivan in 2004…that those two days could easily be said to be the worst days in the history of tourism in the Cayman Islands,’ he said.

Mr. Clifford said protocols for notifying boat owners, as well as the Ministry of Tourism and the Department of Environment if conditions warrant a closure in the North Sound, are being drawn up now.

In the meantime, he said temporary measures are being put in place.

‘There’s an initial understanding…if that issue occurs….there would be consultation with the Ministry, the DoE, the watersports operators and the Port Authority.’

The two main watersports operators groups, the National Watersports Operator’s Association and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Watersports Committee, would be notified of any closures in the future, Mr. Clifford said.

‘We won’t be in a position…to consult each individual operator,’ he said. ‘There has to be a mechanism in place that allows it to happen quickly, because if it’s a public safety issue it can’t be a situation where we’re in meetings for hours trying to decide what to do.’

Police said a combination of hazardous water conditions, and injuries to tourists in the Sandbar area led them to order the closure.

Two cruise ship passengers suffered stings from tiny jellyfish known as sea thimbles on Wednesday morning. A third tourist was injured when a stingray barb pierced the skin of his arm. All injuries were minor.

Officers said it was likely the choppy waves caused the stingray injury by pushing the animal on top of the tourist.

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