Boatswains on the market

Budget crunch may force sale

The Boatswains Beach/Cayman Turtle Farm tourist attraction in West Bay may be sold, if the government can find the right buyer, Leader of Government Business McKeeva Bush said Friday.

Boatswains

Boatswains

Having ended the 2008/09 financial year on 30 June with a $74 million operating deficit, and with projections of a $30 million to $50 million operating deficit in the current fiscal year, Mr. Bush said sale of government assets would indeed have to be considered.

‘If we could find the right partner, we would take that partner on,’ Mr. Bush told those gathered at a Cabinet press briefing. ‘The right partner, of course being the right partner with the right-sized pocketbook and the right experience.’

Mr. Bush revealed that preliminary discussions had already been held with individuals in the private sector who might have an interest in investing.

‘We’ve had some discussions with some people, but it’s not something that has borne any fruit,’ he said. ‘There is some interest, but not anything that I can report at this time.’

The Boatswains Beach operation has required upwards of $20 million in cash injections from the Cayman Islands government within the past five years to keep it afloat financially, not counting government-backed loans the facility has received.

Huge losses at the tourist attraction have only occurred in recent years as staff costs have increased with several new attractions coming on line.

Since 2004, several new park attractions, including salt water and fresh water lagoons, a predator tank, an aviary and the historic Cayman Street were introduced to give visitors a taste of the local lifestyle.

Many of those attractions, like the salt water lagoon and aviary require specialised staff as well as additional employees.

Overhead costs to run the facility were not as high when it was merely a breeding area for turtles where visitors could also stop by and see the marine life.

For instance, in the 2004 financial year, the facility’s operating loss was $557,000, with the Turtle Farm employing 35 people.

But in the 2007/08 budget year, those losses had soared to some $8.6 million and the operation’s staff grew to some 117 workers.

Mr. Bush said he didn’t want people to panic simply because government was looking at its options in reducing the budget deficit. .

‘People will get the wrong impression,’ he said. ‘We are not going to sell anything to throw people out of work or to close down anything. It is simply a means of making government’s financial position viable in the country and in fact, to retain jobs in the country and create jobs in the country.’

In any case, Mr. Bush said government’s financial problems were likely to require some cost cutting as well as asset sale.

‘Cut, we must,’ he said. ‘The deficit is huge and we just simply cannot spend at a time when revenue is down.’

‘What those cuts are, it’s not known at this time.’

Boatswains Beach could be sold to a private enterprise. Photo: File

‘If we could find the right partner, we would take that partner on,’ Mr. Bush told those gathered at a Cabinet press briefing. ‘The right partner, of course being the right partner with the right-sized pocketbook and the right experience.’

McKeeva Bush, Leader of Government Business

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