Much has been made in recent years about the safety of the tourism industry with regard to taking passengers on boat tours in the North Sound and elsewhere.
Changes have been made to maritime law aimed at improving the safety of charter craft.
Cayman also has in-depth and stringent regulations for larger craft such as cruise ships and supply tankers that come and go in local waters on a regular basis.
However, the topic that has received far less attention in recent years is the regulation of individual pleasure or commercial craft, usually smaller personal boats that are used for recreation or commercial fishing.
The Port Authority Law and regulations do require the authority to conduct annual vessel and safety equipment inspections for boat engines and the existence of safety equipment. Those inspections usually are conducted before the end of July.
Any vessel owner found wanting by the inspections could face prosecution, a fine of up to $1,000 and a possible year in prison upon conviction.
Requirements for on-board safety, rescue and navigational equipment increase depending on boat size. The categories include eight to 20ft, 20ft to 40ft and 40ft or greater. There are requirements for bilge pumps, anchors with various lengths of rope, various kinds of signalling apparatus, navigation equipment and first aid kits.
Despite these regulations, it seems that a group of six men were allowed to leave on a trip across the Caribbean Sea with a clearly overloaded fishing boat. It was only through what some have described as a miracle that the men were rescued by an oil tanker nine days after their boat sank.
That’s not the only recent marine incident of concern:
In late June, one man was killed and three other people rescued when their small craft overturned. The three survivors were saved by a nearby dive boat.
In March, a sinking fishing boat had to be guided back to Grand Cayman with help from police and Cayman Islands helicopters in an operation that took more than a day.
In December, four adults and three children were rescued in South Sound when their craft ran into a barrier reef. According to passengers aboard, lighted buoys outside the reef weren’t working when the boat came in.
In short, Cayman needs to get serious about marine safety and training for owners of smaller watercraft. Ignoring the issue means more potentially tragic incidents in local waters.