Boaters’ rescue raises marine safety issues



    While six missing boaters are still thanking their lucky stars for their unexpected rescue earlier in the week, Cayman authorities are beginning to turn their minds toward marine safety issues in the wake of what might have been a terrible tragedy.  

    The 37-foot ‘Miss Janice’ sank about five hours after leaving Cayman. It’s captain, Travis Welcome, has acknowledged the craft was overloaded and has said it capsized and sank quickly when hit by two high waves on Sunday, 17 July.  

    It remains unclear whether it was any local agency’s responsibility to inspect the craft prior to its departure. However, in checking with different law enforcement agencies on the Islands it appears the ‘Miss Janice’ was not inspected prior to departure.  

    According to Cayman Islands Port Operations Manager Joey Woods, the ‘Miss Janice’ was not docked at the port and did not have the items loaded onto it there either. Normally, port officials would inspect the cargo being loaded onto a ship and customs officers would take it down to the craft.  

    “Since the vessel didn’t leave from [the port], we didn’t have any control over that at all,” Mr. Woods said.  

    Assistant Customs Collector Jeff Jackson said officers would normally be guided during an inspection by how the craft is registered. He said there is typically one type of registration for fishing vessels and another for cargo-hauling craft. The registration is handled by the Cayman Islands Maritime Authority, Mr. Jackson said.  

    Mr. Jackson said customs officers do have a designated area for boat inspections at the port in George Town, but they will also perform random checks at other docks to determine whether watercraft there are fit for use. He said customs officers will also be notified from time to time if there is a safety concern about a particular vessel.  

    “I’m just not sure what took place with this particular vessel,” he said.  

    Mr. Woods said there is a section of the Cayman Islands Penal Code that deals with overloading watercraft. However, its not known whether that section would have applied to the situation with ‘Miss Janice’.  

    Section 214 of the Penal Code reads: “A person who knowingly or negligently conveys or causes any person to be conveyed for hire by water or by air in any vessel, hovercraft or aircraft when such a vessel … is in such a state or so loaded as to be unsafe is guilty of an offence.”  

    The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, which handles marine enforcement for the Islands, referred all questions about marine safety issues to the Port Authority.  

    However, the police service has become concerned recently about the number of incidents that have occurred in Cayman’s waters where people have been injured of killed.  

    In late June, one man was killed and three other people had to be rescued by a nearby dive boat after their small craft overturned in rough seas in South Sound.  

    The Sunset Divers boat just happened to be in the area trying to rescue a kite surfer who had gone into the water nearby. It was later learned the surfer swam to shore. 

    In March, the local craft ‘El Tigre’ had to be guided into Grand Cayman, travelling in reverse for much of the way while the crew pumped out water. All those aboard got back to Cayman safely with help from police and Cayman Islands Helicopters.  

    Four adults and three children were rescued in South Sound in December when their craft ran into the barrier reef trying to find an opening to return to the dock  

    According to boat passenger Gordon McLaughlin, the boaters were thrown off by the buoy markers near the South Sound reef. He said the buoys were lit on the inside of the reef, but not the outside.  

    “They need to fix the markers at the reef, they outside markers are not lit up,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Trust me, they’re going to kill somebody out there.”  

    In October, a shipping company worker was killed after diving into the water to untangle a rope from a mooring buoy. On the way back up to the surface, police said it appeared the man was struck by the ship’s propeller.  

    “As a result of a number of incidents recently concerning safety at sea, it is the intention of the RCIPS to invite partner agencies to work with us to develop a national marine safety strategy,” a police spokesperson said. 


    The craft ‘El Tigre’ is pictured here in March 2011 during a time-consuming rescue attempt. It was one of several recent marine incidents in Cayman that have raised concern about boating safety.


    1. I think the marine safety issues have already been raised and quietly buried at least one before.

      In November 2006 the Office of the Complaints Commissioner prepared a report entitled Safety of Small Commercial Waterborne Vessels. It was tabled in the LA by Alden McLaughlin and, after lengthy wrangling, was apparently killed off by some of the watersports operators during the following year.

      Certainly nothing had been done about it by CIG (although many of the dive operators had implemented changes to their operating and training programmes) when I left Cayman in 2008 and at that time my former employer had felt the matter serious enough to ask me to write at least two stories commenting on the lack of progress.

      Amongst the risks identified, and addressed by the report, were capsizing, collision, fire or sinking.

      If I remember rightly Mr Woods headed the committee originally charged with the implementation of the proposed new rules and changes were expected to be in place by the end of 2007.

      You can find more at -

    2. The island offers no boating courses what so ever… I was looking to do one to reduce my insurance.

      Also, regarding overloading the boat…. it is well know to the police that a lot of stolen items are packed aboard boats to Honduras but being able to manifest there contents against stolen items is very time consuming.

    3. Boat inspection is necessary and needs to be regulated in the Cayman Islands. The boats I have seen in these photos appear to be or should be approved only for around the sland tours or maybe trips to stingray City. Certainly not from one port to another in different or neighboring jurisdictions. Lets be real about this. This is playing with people’s lives.

    4. Whenever I see the boats overloaded going out to stingray city, I cannot help but wonder about life preservers for each person or any safety plans in place and wish them luck.
      We offloaded some of the cruise ship people from the boat that rolled over at stingray city. It was amazing that no one died. Did anything change, no.

    5. It is at least a miracle that all six passengers on a craft which was admittedly overloaded and sank quickly when hit by 2 waves would have been able to load 2 life boats with enough food and water to survive for nine days on the high seas and eventually be picked up by a passing freighter. Life has been spared this time but perhaps it is time to enforce the laws requiring such vessels to be inspected by customs before they leave and when they return since it is very costly to mount a sea search for such period of time. Any insurance payments recovered should possibly be used to pay for the search.

    6. Many of the boats going out to stingray city with cruise ship passengers are over-loaded.
      Most of them ignore posted speed limits and safety signs.
      And jet skis… please!

      The marine police apparently can do little or nothing.

      The law requires license plates on trailers. Why not on boats? Private and commercial.

      All boats should be required to have a clearly visible identification number on both sides.
      Issued by the government, renewable online annually at a reasonable cost, depending on boat size.
      Perhaps 20 a year for boats under 20 feet.

      The revenue raised should go towards the marine police and boating classes.

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