Mystery of the missing boom

Sick and tired of removing garbage that washed up on the beach in front of his Cayman Kai home, Vernon J. Andrews bought and installed a containment boom in November to keep the marine debris off his land.  

A month later, the 1,600-pound, 130-foot long device, similar to those used to contain oil spills, disappeared. 

Fearing the equipment had been stolen and towed away by thieves, Mr. Andrews called the police, who began investigating a possible theft. 

Mr. Andrews, known locally as “The General”, bought the boom for $4,000 in Florida and paid an additional $4,000 for duty, freight, transportation and installation fees.  

He returned to the United States on 5 December and on 9 January, got a call from a woman who was checking his house in Cayman while he was away to say the boom was no longer there. 

Mr. Andrews and his wife came back to Cayman a few days later. Last week, with the boom gone, he filled at least six large garbage bags of rubbish with debris. 

“Beer bottles and cans, moccasins and flip flops, plastic spoons and forks, all sorts of rubbish,” said Mr. Andrews, describing what has been washing up in the little cove at Bowse Bluff. 

The bright yellow boom is made up of two 65-feet-long sections, fitted with 8-inch in diameter half-shell floats on either side of a black PVC impregnated polyester, fixed about 24 inches apart. The boom prevents detritus from floating inland and enables waves to carry the rubbish back out to sea. 

Mr. Andrews has been battling the onslaught of rubbish onto the cove since a channel was cut in the reef several years ago to allow large boats through. “Before that, we never had a problem,” he said. 

While many of Cayman’s public beaches are pristine and are regularly cleaned, many of the beaches off the beaten track are badly littered, mostly from rubbish from cruise ships or garbage disposed off in overseas countries that wash onto land in Cayman. 

Mr. Andrews, an 83-year-old retired US Army lieutenant general who has been coming to Cayman since 1963 and built a home here in 1967, contacted the Caymanian Compass about the disappearance of the boom.  

He said he did not believe it could have washed out to sea, even in the rough sea conditions and windy weather seen in December and early January, because it was securely anchored and chained in place with lead weights. 

The mystery of the missing boom was solved when it turned out the Cayman Islands Department of Environment had removed it after part of it washed onto the ironshore next door to Mr. Andrews’ property. 

Scott Slaybaugh, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said marine officers had come across the boom and “hauled it away”, believing it had washed ashore from elsewhere. 

“It had come loose,” said Mr. Slaybaugh, who added that it was possible that a coastal works licence might be required to install the boom. 

The Department of Environment and Mr. Andrews are arranging for the return of the boom to Cayman Kai.