Boaters upset with police response

A group of local boaters was called in to save a friend’s fishing craft last week after Marine Unit officers left the boat on the North Sound reef.

However, local police said the 43-foot boat Maritza was not in any danger and that Joint Marine Unit officers aboard were being asked to perform what was essentially a salvage operation, rather than a rescue at sea.

“[The] Joint Marine Unit team advised [the] crew of vessel that they are not a salvage operation,” read a statement on the matter from Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Superintendent Adrian Seales. “This is a case where the persons in charge of the fishing vessel chose to have the crew remain on a grounded vessel on a reef and try to preserve the cargo versus having them safely removed and taken to dry land.”

Maritza owner Hardie Welcome said his fishing boat was towing in a 25-foot sailboat near dusk Tuesday evening and the person piloting the larger craft misjudged the channel in the North Sound reef, running the larger boat aground at slow speed.

“I called 911 and they said that they were sending police,” Mr. Welcome said. “They took about an hour and a half to get there because they were misinformed about the channel.”

Mr. Welcome, who had five other people aboard his boat at the time, said he asked the police to utilize the higher tide to float the vessel off the ridge. “If they had come to us and pulled us off before the sea washed us up on the dry area, we would have been fine,” he said, adding, “They just left us there.”

Mr. Seales said Marine Unit officers at the scene determined that there was “no further danger posed relative to sinking or additional damage which would place [the] crews’ lives further at risk.”

Mr. Welcome called in his friends, Donverd and Darney Kelly, to come help him out.

Darney Kelly said he went out to the channel around 11:30 p.m. to assist. At this point, the Maritza had been grounded on the reef for nearly six hours, but he couldn’t get to the reef because it was too dark and there were no lights available. Donverd Kelly indicated they asked police to provide guide lights, but the request was refused.

At first light on Wednesday, the Kellys’ rescue boat – this time captained by Derron Kelly – arrived on the scene. “It took him 20 minutes, not even that, to pull the boat off the reef,” Mr. Welcome said.

Mr. Seales said it was not police’s responsibility to conduct salvage operations. “This is the responsibility of the vessel owner/captain,” he said.