Boating safety law touted

A new law governing safety requirements for both small commercial and privately owned water craft in the Cayman Islands could be presented to Cabinet as early as next month.

Recommendations for the creation of a Local Vessels Law were sent to the Ministry of Tourism last year from an inter-agency working group chaired by Port Authority Cruise Operations and Security Manager Joseph Woods.

Mr. Woods declined to discuss specifics of the plan. However, he said requirements for both commercial and private craft were included in what was sent to the ministry.

‘Safety is the main issue, for the operators of the vessel and for the passengers,’ he said. ‘There are elements which will impact private vessels too.’

Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said the group’s proposals are being reviewed, and that he hoped to take a plan to Cabinet sometime in February with final approval by Legislative Assembly to come later in the year.

The need for tighter boating safety regulations was discussed more than a year ago in a report issued by the Office of the Complaints Commissioner. Commissioner John Epp’s investigation found that some small commercial vessels were operating at an unacceptable level of risk.

Among the problems aboard small commercial craft reported by witnesses who spoke with the complaints commissioner were: hull damage, major modifications to the vessel without professional design, overloading of water craft, life-saving equipment that was in poor condition or not properly stowed, lack of training for crew particularly in search and rescue operations, and consumption of alcohol by crew members and boat captains.

The Port Authority Law regulates safety requirements for submersible vessels and cruise ship tenders. Also, recently approved measures in the Marine Conservation Law require licensing of commercial craft that go to the Sandbar and Stingray City.

However, small commercial vessels are generally not subjected to laws that control their construction, operational safety, crew requirements and qualifications, and inspection.

Mr. Epp’s report recommended improved legislation for the industry. He said the process for putting that in place has been slower than his office would have liked.

‘I’m anxious to see tangible evidence of a completed bill and regulations,’ Mr. Epp said.

Mr. Clifford said it was likely that his ministry would present a separate law and regulations to Cabinet, as opposed to trying to add more regulations to the Port Authority Law.

The complaints commissioner’s report did not focus on private water craft in its review. But many small commercial vessel operators have said it would be unfair to subject them to regulations that private craft are not required to follow.

‘It would be a terrible oversight not to include private vessels in any new regulations that come out to govern vessels in the Cayman Islands,’ Chairman of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Water Sports Committee Steve Broadbelt told the Caymanian Compass last year. (See Compass ‘Two boats capsize’ 14 March)

Mr. Clifford said details had not been worked out fully, but indicated that the ministry may push for a ‘phased in’ approach; first implementing regulations for small commercial vessels and later bringing in requirements for private boats.