Contaminant could be Kittiwake problem

Last-minute PCB removal necessary but vessel license applications still being accepted

The sinking of the USS Kittiwake,
originally set for 27 July, has been delayed due to the possibility of
contamination by banned organic chemicals in 11 gaskets.

“Although it’s a project where
we’ve had tremendous checks and balances along the way in making sure that we
removed any hazardous materials and we go through all the necessary procedures,
we had a third party inspection that needed to take place,” said Trina
Christian of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.

“We passed all those inspection
[criteria] except for one. They said they wanted us to remove eleven gaskets on
the hull.”

Ms Christian said removing the
gaskets was necessary because of the possibility that dangerous chemicals
called polychlorinated biphyenyls, or PCBs, may have been used in the gasket
seals. The United States Congress banned PCB production in 1979, and the toxic
organic pollutant was banned by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic
Pollutants in 2001. It was not clear whether PCBs had been used, but the
possibility precluded the ship’s movement on its original schedule.

“The United States is not legally
allowed to export PCBs. If we didn’t remove them but just had the gaskets
tested [for their presence], that would have taken two weeks as well,”
explained the executive director of the tourism association.

“The ship was supposed to leave
Friday, 9 July, but we either had to send a dive team in to remove the gaskets
or dry dock the boat and there was no dry dock available though we searched
high and low,” she said.

She added that all possibilities
and permutations had been explored and discussed once the association had been
notified of the potential issue.

Logistics problems

Since the tow of the Kittiwake to
Cayman takes two weeks, the delay caused by either testing gaskets for the
presence of PCBs or removing them meant that the timeline was affected, as the
logistics of bringing the vessel to the islands during August became
problematic.

The ship’s journey would have come
in the middle of a potentially very active month in the hurricane season, not
only in Cayman waters but also on the way down, and therefore the decision was
made on Thursday to postpone the towing and sinking until after hurricane season.

In light of significant media
interest in the sinking and its associated events that had been generated, Ms
Christian said, the tourism association requested airlines and hotels be
flexible with change fees associated with the revised sinking schedule.

The revised schedule will be
announced once the project manager, Nancy Easterbrook, has had the opportunity
to discuss the contractors’ availability for autumn 2010.

Applications accepted

Applications are, however, being
accepted by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association for dive and snorkel
operators and individual residents who want to dive the wreck. The licenses
will apply from 1 July and last a calendar year as planned, but due to
postponement of the ship’s sinking, the licensing fee will now be pro-rated by
the association.

The new Kittiwake Marine Park
requires that all vessels visiting are licensed by the tourism association. Individual
medallions will cost US$10 per diver, and a snorkel wristband will be US$5.
Commercial vessels are licensed at a cost of CI$150/year for the company’s
first boat and CI$75 for each additional boat. With every license issued, a
slate/map of the Marine Park, two boat decals, three medallions and a briefing
of the site are included. Licenses are valid from a year. Individual licensing
can also be done at the Cayman Islands Tourism office. The annual cost for a
personal boat is CI$40. This includes two annual snorkeler and diver
medallions. Additional annual medallions can be purchased by residents for
CI$25 per year. All proceeds will be collected by the tourism association and
utilised to sustain, maintain and promote the shipwreck. All documentation and
information will be released as planned.

Licence requests

The tourism association said that
any operator of a vessel or individual requesting a license for the marine
park, or further information of any kind, can visit the Cayman Islands Tourism Office
at 1320 West Bay Road to complete the necessary forms and discuss the revised
plans as and when information might become available. The paperwork is also
available for download at www.kittiwakecayman.com. The tourism association
number is 949 8522.

Commercial applicants must be a
paid-up member of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and should provide a
completed application, a list of vessel names for licensing, proof of insurance
and full payment of licensing fees.

A series of events will take place
around the rescheduled sinking of the Kittiwake, with exact dates to be
announced.

The Kittiwake project, a seven-year
endeavour, is a cooperative venture of the tourism association and the Cayman
Islands Government.

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association
has leased the ship and will uphold the agreement by maintaining the shipwreck,
implementing procedures to promote safe practices and conducting monthly
research to determine the benefits and effects of this artificialreef.

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The USS Kittiwake ran into a gasket issue, postponing its sinking.
Photo: File
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