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.