USS Kittiwake becoming reality

The Ministry of Tourism has signed an agreement with the Cayman Islands Tourism Association for the acquisition of the long awaited retired US naval ship, the USS Kittiwake.

The ship is to be sunk around the middle of next year on a big sand patch in the northern end of Seven Mile Beach and serve as a new dive attraction for the Cayman Islands.

The agreement formalises the government’s plan to acquire the USS Kittiwake, a de-commissioned naval ship, to create an exciting attraction and artificial reef.

The Kittiwake project is being spearheaded by the CITA.

‘It will be the biggest thing that’s happened in the dive industry in the last 10 years,’ said President of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Steve Broadbelt, who is also chairman of the Watersports Committee. He was speaking at the Annual Tourism Conference at the Westin Casuarina Resort last week.

At the same conference, Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford had announced the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with the CITA for the ship’s acquisition.

He said this was done ‘in solidifying Cayman’s status as a diving and watersports destination, as well as an environmentally friendly destination.’

Minister Clifford said, ‘This retired US naval ship is planned to become Cayman’s newest dive attraction and artificial reef.

‘The international dive community is drawn to such sites where divers can explore maritime history.

‘This site will also benefit our marine ecology by providing artificial habitats for fish and much desired relief for some of our frequently visited dive sites.’

Mr. Broadbelt asserted that the project will bring a lot of new business or repeat business to the island and it is very much needed.

In a GIS press release, Minister Clifford said the ship fits Cayman’s positioning as a dive destination.

‘Our sea-faring heritage, our strong interest in presenting varied tourism offerings and our belief in preserving the environment, all played a major role in the decision to acquire this latest diving attraction.’

Noting that shipwrecks are a great interest to divers worldwide, he said, ‘For example Florida has a shipwreck heritage trail comprising notable wreck sites which stretches from Key Largo to Key West. Over the past several years, other ships were intentionally sunk along that trail to provide added attractions and to create an artificial reef believed to be home to some 55 varieties of delicate corals and nearly 500 species of fish.’

Speaking for CITA, USS Kittiwake Project Manager Nancy Easterbrook noted, ‘The Kittiwake has been a labour of love and really hard work for over five years, but it is coming to fruition now. It will be transferred to government before year end for cleaning and remediation, with an expected sinking date around June 2009.

‘We all look forward to seeing water-based tourism in Grand Cayman stimulated by this new underwater attraction, suitable for both divers and snorkellers.

‘But this effort is also significant because it is a pilot project in terms of exporting a ship from the US to a foreign country.

‘It’s not been easy due to strict and diligent requirements involving sinking an artificial reef in Grand Cayman. In the long run though, the oversight will ensure success for decades to come. We’ll be preserving and protecting the Kittiwake, as well as the natural marine environment,’ Ms Easterbrook explained.

Built in 1945, the ship made numerous voyages between the United States’ east coast, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean in support of submarines and to conduct rescue missions for the US Navy.

With its impressive background, the Kittiwake is expected to create considerable positive media and PR for the Cayman Islands, said the GIS release.

At the Tourism Conference, Mr. Broadbelt also mentioned a new project, Dive 365.

He explained there are 297 dive sites between all three islands. This project aims to install an additional 68 moorings over three to five years to bring it up to 365 – a different dive site for every day of the year – which will be a new marketing theme for 2009.

The Kittiwake will serve as one of those new dive sites along with other reefs and walls.