The typically busy days around the holiday season for cruise ship tourism in Cayman had a bit of a wrench thrown in by Mother Nature.
The Sandbar in the North South has been closed down because of high winds and choppy waves three times over the past three weeks; once on 22 December, and again on Monday and Tuesday of this week.
Local boat captains don’t like to see it happen, with hundreds of cruise shippers packed onto buses headed toward SafeHaven harbour for a chance to swim with the stingrays in the shallow water Sandbar and to snorkel alongside them in the deeper water at Stingray City.
The loss of those trips can cost tour operators thousands of dollars per day.
But local tour operators said, over the past few weeks, they can’t argue with the decisions made to close the Sandbar by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
‘The calls they’ve made so far have been good,’ long-time Sandbar tour operator Captain Bryan Ebanks said.
Another tour boat operator, Presley Degen, said he realised tourists probably should not be in the water in these conditions, but thought it might be nice to have a ‘Plan B’ in place for the tour operators.
‘Maybe just a tour around the North Sound, so they can see the stingrays,’ Mr. Degen said. ‘This is our major attraction.’
There has been a long-running argument over the past several years since police began closing down the Sandbar due to weather conditions in the North Sound on a regular basis in 2007.
The decisions are made following consultation between boat captains, the police and the Port Authority regarding weather and sea conditions.
This time around, boat captains can’t dispute the decisions to close the area, but they are a bit upset over how late those calls came in.
‘We didn’t know [about Tuesday’s Sandbar closure] until 8.30am this morning,’ Captain Bryan said. ‘And we get up from 6am.’
Captain Bryan said his company alone had to turn away more than 100 passengers who showed up on Tuesday morning. He said if the notification had come earlier, around 7am, the tour operators might have notified the cruise ships via the Port Authority before passengers showed up.
‘So we’re not dragging people from Spotts (dock) and you don’t have to bring in your crews if they don’t have work,’ he said. ‘We still have to pay the crews that come in.’
The Port Authority Law (1999 Revision) gives the RCIPS Marine Unit the ability to close the Sandbar area of the North Sound to boat traffic if conditions warrant. In practice, that power was rarely used until 2007 – when several marine accidents blamed on poor conditions in the North Sound brought the issue to the forefront.
Over the past three years, police have tended to close the popular tourism destination just a handful of times each year.