Final preparations under way for Kittiwake sinking

Final preparations are under way in
order to prepare the USS-Kittiwake for her scheduled sinking on Tuesday, 4

The event, dependent on weather
conditions, will take place at the north end of Seven Mile Beach starting at
10am. Local contractor West Indian Marine will handle the final leg of
operations. Once sunk, the vessel will provide an exciting new dive site as well
as an artificial reef for wildlife.

The 251-foot vessel’s sinking is
considered to be the biggest tourist development since Stingray City and has
been some seven years in the making.

Premier McKeeva Bush earlier
expressed his delight at the imminent completion of the project.

“The sinking of the ex-USS Kittiwake
represents the single most significant occurrence in a decade for Cayman’s dive
industry, and our tourism stakeholders in both the public and private sectors
are naturally very excited about it. Since the last year, the Ministry and
Department of Tourism, CITA and Kittiwake project manager, Nancy Easterbrook,
have been working hand in hand through many processes to ensure the cleaning
and safe movement of the vessel to the Cayman Islands in preparation for its
sinking, and I am pleased to see that we are almost at the finish line,” said
Mr. Bush.

Mrs. Easterbrook said the partnership
required significant teamwork between the private and public sectors.

“The Ministry of Tourism realised the
importance of this initiative when it was first proposed in 2002 and assisted
us in kick-starting its development. CITA came on board and matched those
funds, and both parties have been working tirelessly to get to this point
where… the Kittiwake will become Grand Cayman’s newest dive attraction,” she

Significant event

The vessel had been scheduled for
sinking in June, just prior to the height of the hurricane season. However, due
to a last-minute sealant issue, its arrival was delayed. Following a nine-day
tow, the Kittiwake came to Cayman’s waters on Christmas Day.

 She then docked at Spotts awaiting favourable
weather conditions.

The Kittiwake is the first

former US forces ship to be handed
over to a different country. Over the course of the project, political changes
and constantly-evolving laws and regulations regarding hazardous materials and
artificial reefs presented numerous challenges to the project. Environmental
issues are also paramount, Mrs Easterbrook noted last year.

“The Kittiwake shipwreck attraction
may assist in diversifying the product offering in order to reduce the
environmental impact on Stingray City and other frequented reefs by cruise ship
traffic and stay-over guests for dive and snorkelling.”

A long-term monitoring project is also
under way, as scientists regularly collect data on fish populations and habitat
growth. It should help with controlling Red Lion Fish, as well as provide
information on migration and life-cycle habits of indigenous wildlife, and
coral health and population comparison between nearby natural reefs and the
Kittiwake over the years.

Dive interest

Interest from the dive industry

in the Kittiwake has been intense. At
the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association show in Las Vegas in November,
Cayman’s tourism and dive industry was out in force and confirmed discussions
had taken place with tour operators, wholesalers and dive industry
professionals worldwide who were keen to add the attraction to their catalogues
for 2011.

“Our theme at the Cayman Islands
aisle was ‘wrecks of the Cayman Islands’.

Pretty much as soon as people walked
in they could see our booth and it was one of the first aisles people went
down. We ran out of Kittiwake flyers after the second day – there’s a lot of
interest,” said Mike Brown of Sunset House.

Kittiwake Sinking Schedule:

Monday, 3 January

1-2pm: Guided tour of the
Kittiwake for Government dignitaries and media, followed by a brief dedication
ceremony and unveiling of a commemorative plaque

2-4pm: Tenders for the
general public to circle the Kittiwake, operating every 30 minutes.

Tuesday, 4 January

From 10am: The sinking of
the ship, West Bay Public Beach


Wednesday, 5 January

6-8pm: Cocktail
reception/silent auction at Margaritaville

All events are subject to
weather conditions.