Boat captains: No safe haven from the rent

In years gone by, about a dozen commercial boat operators had enjoyed free mooring at the Port Authority-operated marina in SafeHaven — a deal that was good for the captains, bad for the public treasury and unfortunate for unsuspecting tourists who ventured to the decrepit facilities.

West Bay MLA McKeeva Bush described the nautical slum thusly, “I found that in 2000 it was an atrocity for our tourism industry, with garbage, and nowhere for people to use bathrooms.”

While we would argue against the government’s engaging in any business ventures that compete with the private sector, including operating a marina, it is not disputable that the SafeHaven site was in dire need of renovation in order to continue operating as a marina, public or private.

The marina upgrade came about as a result of an agreement signed in January 2009 between Ritz-Carlton developer Mike Ryan and then–Port Authority board chairman Wayne Panton, who is now an elected MLA and Cabinet member.

With an estimated cost of $3 million, the renovations doubled the capacity of the marina to 26 boats. Reportedly, the Port Authority is now asking for monthly rents of at least $600 — a rate that appears to be on the low end compared to private marina space nearby.

For the sake of perspective, at full occupancy and charging $600 per month per boat, it would take the SafeHaven marina 16 years to recoup its $3 million redevelopment cost — not factoring in ongoing costs for operations and maintenance, or revenue from other sales or services.

Nevertheless, empowered by a sense of government-enabled entitlement, the local boat captains are balking, saying that price is simply too high.
A “solution,” according to Land and Sea Co-op Deputy Chairman Shaun Ebanks, is for the government to build an entirely new marina for their benefit and to charge a more affordable rate of $250 per month.

There is something fundamentally wrong with this entire equation. Government has gotten all mixed up with business and politics. The result is patronage, waste and market imbalance.

On the side of reason, Rod McDowell of Red Sail Sports stated, “If you run a commercial business, and you take guests out somewhere, I’ve never known anywhere where you don’t pay a fee for docking services or marina. It is just a part of the business.”
Precisely.

If the difference between success and failure is the difference between $600 and $250 per month – then the problem isn’t the rent; it’s the business model.

Businesses that can’t afford basic operating expenses shouldn’t be in business. This is especially true in an industry where people’s lives depend on adherence to safety regulations, such as maximum passenger capacity.

Which leads us to comment on, once again, the overcrowding of boats at the Stingray City Sandbar.

Readers will recall that the single officer from the Department of Environment who was “patrolling” the area was reassigned for “budgetary reasons.”

We don’t buy it. If a country with a $650 million-plus operating budget can’t afford one safety officer at one of Cayman’s most popular tourist destinations, then something is seriously amiss. After all, practically every bank branch, jewelry store and supermarket has a security guard on duty.

Perhaps Mr. Panton, the minister of environment, would like to explain what is really going on here.

While we value our watersports operators and the unique local experience they provide our visitors, we do not regard them as an “endangered species” that deserve special protections — financial, environmental or political. Rent — at a fair market rate — is just another cost of doing business.

1 COMMENT

  1. Compass keeps surprising us. What Cayman Islands are? A wonderland? A crazy land? I can’t forget about so called volunteers that get paid well, travel guides that do nothing and get paid well, government officials on a indefinite leave that get fully paid and now boat owners that expect CIG to pay their operating expenses.

  2. In the land of the free lunch this is just another example of why we have 600 million dollar annual government tax bill. If the boat operators all put one dollar aside per person that they take out to the sandbar within 5 years they could buy their own dock. But no they believe that every other person who lives here should pay to support their business and then they complain about the high cost of living.

    Let remember that the venue that these trips go to is natural environment which also costs the operators zero to maintain as well. And yet we the tax payer is expected to pay for a DOE employee.

    Well I think the water sport industry should be taxed to pay for this employee as it for their benefit and the 600 per month fee for a commercial vessel is too low and should be increased to cover the cost of operating expenses for the dock plus the cost of improvements based on annual cost to the tax payer.

    The land and sea co -op should start paying their way instead of expecting a free lunch and others who do not benefit expecting to put up their lunch tab. In this way the cost of living will be cheaper for the rest of us.