The captain of a 1,000-foot cruise ship mistakenly anchored in an unauthorized zone outside a dive shop in George Town on Wednesday, severely damaging a patch of pristine coral reef.
“The damage was a pretty significant as the anchors on these ships are very large,” said Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment.
“The impact where the anchor landed was very severe; there was a lot of crushed live coral and sediment.”
The Carnival Magic cruise ship was guided by pilot boats to anchor outside of the designated public port anchorage, according to officials from the DoE.
The Port Regulations (2011) list four anchorage areas for ships in the George Town port. There is no live coral left in these areas, as the reef there has been destroyed over the years, DoE officials said.
Under the Marine Conservation Law, it is an offense for boaters to damage to any species of coral reef in Cayman waters by way of an anchor. Boaters are encouraged instead to use public moorings, which are outlined on the DoE’s website.
“Coral is already under a threat by a myriad of impacts, from climate changes to human impact,” said Mr. Austin.
“The impact of losing any live coral has a big knock-on affect. Coral is very slow growing and it will take five to six decades to put back what was lost in a few hours yesterday.”
Port Authority officials authorized Bodden Shipping Agency’s pilot boats to direct the vessel to the southernmost anchorage, number four.
“The Port Authority assigns the anchorage to the ships, but the pilot directs them to the anchorage and tells them where they drop the anchor,” said Joseph Woods, the Port Authority’s cruise operations and security manager.
DoE officials said rough winds led the captain to position the ship about 200 meters outside of the zone, in front of Don Foster’s Dive site.
Staffers at Don Foster’s were shocked when they saw the cruise ship dropping its anchor just outside their shop.
“We were curious because we have never seen a cruise ship in a position that far south before, and so we assumed that the location of the anchor was a bit strange there,” said Sergio Coni, operations manager of Don Foster’s Dive.
After notifying the Port Authority, Mr. Coni asked staff to dive down and check for any damage to the reef.
“We dived down in the area just in case, and then we took some photos of where the anchor landed and where the anchor and chain location was,” Mr. Coni said.
“You can see the path where the anchor went at that moment, and where the chain was sitting along the coral, the coral is certainly damaged.”
“[The pictures show] …the scar left on the coral bed by the anchor after being dropped and dragged until it set. [There is] a clear path of broken coral pieces as wide as the anchor and for as long the anchor dragged,” he said.
Don Foster’s Dive crews regularly dive around that patch of coral reef, and according to staff it was in good condition before the accident occurred. “It was a perfectly fine live section of the coral there,” Mr. Coni said.
Staff said no divers were in the water at the time. The vessel was repositioned in a coral-free zone by noon Thursday, DoE officials said.
“The department will be trying to develop between ourselves, the Port Authority and the shipping agent to develop some form of safeguards that can be put in place to ensure that this type of incident doesn’t occur in the future,” said Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment.
Bodden Shipping Agency declined to comment.