2015 already one of deadliest years in local waters

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.


Norman Lee, a comic artist with DC and Marvel Comics, went missing while snorkeling off the Reef Resort last month. He was never found. – Photo: GARY HIGGINS/The Patriot Ledger
GARY HIGGINS/The Patriot Ledger


  1. Sorry, but if it is your time, you would drown in your own tub. If it isn”t, you will be saved by a life guard,passerby or whoever, or wedge between 2 semi trucks and walk away with only few scratches.
    No one has control over one”s time and way to go.
    A recent case in Florida. A small plane making an emergency landing on a public beach took lives of a father and daughter. As tragic as it is, it was their time to go.
    May they all rest in peace, until they decide to reincarnate and try it another and another and another time…life never ends, just changes form. Unless you want to argue with Einstein about quantum physics.

  2. That is quite possibly the worst comment I”ve ever seen on the Compass, and I”m being polite using the word "worst." If your comment were to be believed then let”s just get rid of all emergency service personnel, safety regulations, laws against murder, etc, etc because when it”s your time it”s your time and no amount of human intervention can stop what”s going to happen anyway.

    This coming from the same person who worries about electromagnetic waves (essentially Wifi) being emitted from the smart meters on your home and posting absurd internet articles claiming they are going to kill you. Well what does it matter, we”re all going to die when it”s our time.

  3. Mr.Christoph Walser
    I am sorry I have caused you an emotional distress and have vantage point different from yours.
    I feel strong anger toward my opinions. You have already proposed I move to LA or just disappear from the face of civilization. Where are you going to send me this time?
    Indeed, My perception of this world is different from yours, just like yours is different from everybody else’s.Is anything wrong with that?
    You want to ridicule me? Feel free to do so if it makes you feel better about yourself.
    Are you proposing that few people were assigned to every snorkeler just to make sure they don’t drown? Or to anyone for this matter just to make sure they don’t die? We were born to die and only have some reasonable control over it.
    I propose you present an idea that is alternative,positive and constructive, then whether or not someone else chooses to abide by it, will have no affect on your emotions. Anger is not a healthy emotion. It causes cancer, along with radiation from smart meters :).

  4. Apparently my perception is not different from everybody’s. In fact according to the likes it’s the same as at least 23 others and only different from one, contrary to yours. Sorry you don’t get a free pass by saying "look we all have different point of views and mine are just as valid as anyones." There are plenty of asinine points of view that deserve to be ridiculed, not to make myself or anyone else feel better but to hopefully guard against other naive individuals from taking them seriously.

    My goal here isn’t to propose any ideas for saving snorkelers. I think we can all (except maybe you) agree the waters could be made marginally safer with lifeguards. It’s just a question of cost really. It doesn’t seem like lifeguards would necessarily have helped in some of these cases, but you never know. However that’s a far cry from saying too bad nothing could be done, it was their time to die.

  5. I don”t know opinions of 23 others, just yours. I will give you a credit for that. Others don’t really exist as far as I am concerned. A number next to the red thumb is not an opinion. Since I don’t do name calling, I will say hypothetical 23 others.
    If we could prevent every accidental death, we would. If we could live forever, we would.
    Are there programs in place designed to help prevent accidents and injuries resulting from snorkeling and diving?
    Of course. And yet, people keep dying.
    Of course it is a tragedy for those who are left behind. But you can’t evaluate or judge the quality of one’s life by its length and see every death as a needless loss that could have been prevented.
    Have you thought that there may be forces in place, beyond our imagination, that govern our existence and existence of the Universe?
    After all the sun comes up every morning without fail and this planet keeps spinning in its orbit in perfect proximity to other planets.

  6. The headline of this article is a distorted and extraordinary disproportional view of what is happening.
    In order to fairly reflect findings about deaths from water-related recreational activities, take into account all water-related recreational activities, all of them, and put it into proportion with those resulted in death.

  7. As someone who worked in the water sports industry here for many years, the problem is far bigger than a lack of life guards. The problem is a lack of understanding for how physically taxing water activities are to the body.

    Would a lifeguard help in some situations, yes, probably. But in a lot of cases of water sports deaths, the person’s body could not handle the situation it was put in.

    Tour operators could mitigate some of the risks by conducting medical questionnaires. Most tours are booked well in advance, it is not unreasonable to ask visitors who plan on partaking in these activities to run the idea past their doctors before they come. For divers, it is mandatory to do so when you are initially certified, but that certification is for life. Yes, refresher courses are offered, but the standards for medical authorization are tremendously lacking.
    CITA did a bunch of water safety PSA’s last year, those and other similar efforts should be promoted widely.
    Lifeguards will add to the overall safety but education of proper safety would also be valuable, in my opinion – significantly more so.

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