Six people have died and a seventh is missing and presumed drowned in the Cayman Islands since the start of 2015, making it one of the deadliest years in local waters so far over the past decade.
Six of the seven victims in water-related accidents have been visitors to the islands, including 47-year-old American cartoonist Norman Lee, whose body was never recovered after he went missing while snorkeling with his wife off Grand Cayman’s eastern coast in early March. The seventh victim was a Cuban migrant who drowned in early January when his boat capsized in the waters off South Sound.
The death rate in local waters since Jan. 1 equates to Cayman losing one person every 11.5 days.
Seven deaths, presuming Mr. Lee has died, in the waters is more than the combined total of deaths attributed to homicides and car crashes (six) in the Cayman Islands since the start of 2015.
There are two recent years on record when the half-year total for water-related fatalities reached nine by July 1. Those included 2013 when nine people, seven of them tourists, died in water-related accidents.
In 2010, there were also nine water-related deaths during the first half of the year. However, they were mostly attributable to a single incident in January when five local residents were lost after a craft capsized in the North Sound. The five boaters, including a teenage girl, were never found.
Typically, Cayman averages between eight and 10 water-related fatalities a year, according to statistics examined by the Cayman Compass. Between 2008 and 2011, annual water-related fatalities averaged between nine and 10, respectively.
Even a cursory glance at the available statistics shows an obvious pattern. Of the 26 recorded fatalities in diving or snorkeling incidents between 2003 and 2011, 22 of the victims were older than 50; the youngest was 39.
The water-related deaths so far this year have a similar pattern.
Between Jan. 1 and March 19, only two of the victims in water-related fatalities were under 60. Those include Mr. Lee, who was lost on March 5, and Cuban national Manuel Marino-Rodriguez, 51, who died on Jan. 3.
The other victims were a 70-year-old diver from Texas who got into difficulty during a dive off Seven Mile Beach on March 19; a 60-year-old Floridian who collapsed on a dive boat on Little Cayman on Feb. 22; a 71-year-old swimmer who got into distress off Grand Cayman’s eastern coast on Jan. 26; a 63-year-old American tourist who died while snorkeling off East End on Jan. 14; and an 88-year-old Ukrainian cruise ship tourist who died at the water’s edge on Seven Mile Beach on Jan. 12.
Three of the six deaths or presumed deaths involving tourists have occurred off East End, where outer waters are typically rougher than in the North Sound or along Seven Mile Beach.
A large majority of water-related deaths in the Cayman Islands have been linked to medical conditions, but local water sports operators, including Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers, have long argued that early intervention from trained lifeguards when someone experiences a medical emergency in the water can help prevent a fatality. Mr. Broadbelt made the recommendation earlier this month, noting that bad publicity associated with tourist deaths would likely put off other visitors.
“It [having lifeguards] is not a difficult thing to do,” he said. “The tourists that come here pay 13 percent tax per night. They bring a lot of money to the island, and we have little in the way of water safety. It should be done as a public service. It has happened too often.”
Cayman’s world-champion free diver Tanya Streeter has said more needs to be done in educating tourists about basic water safety.
“Snorkeling is probably where most of the [fatal] incidents are,” Mrs. Streeter said in an earlier interview. “It’s important for visitors to snorkel in buddy-pairs. Having someone on the beach watching you is not good enough.”
For divers, it’s important to get re-certified or to take refresher courses periodically to minimize risk, she said, adding, “If you’re not diving two or three times a year, you should be doing the refresher course,” she said.