We in the Cayman Islands should exercise great caution not to turn an environmental issue into a “class warfare” issue.
Our concern is that, in regard to the recent coral reef destruction involving Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s super-yacht, considerable damage may have already been done — not just to Cayman’s marine habitat, but also to Cayman’s reputation as a safe haven for wealthy investors.
Mitigation efforts should proceed with haste. On both fronts, precedent has been set by the August 2014 incident where the Carnival Magic cruise ship, guided by contractor Bodden Shipping Agency, under the aegis of the Port Authority, dropped anchor, destroying about one-third of an acre of coral reef habitat.
The resulting activity from Cayman’s government was notable primarily for the absence of activity. Department of Environment officials established almost immediately that the Magic’s anchor and chain destroyed the reef — which, under the provisions of Cayman’s marine conservation laws, is a criminal offense carrying hefty penalties. (It does not matter whether the coral destruction was intentional or incidental.)
Despite the prima facie case, environmental officials soon backed away from the possibility of criminal proceedings — since it might have drawn in the Port Authority. In response to pleas from the Department of Environment to “do the right thing for the coral,” only one entity stepped up — the Carnival Cruise company, which voluntarily pledged $100,000 to assist reef recovery efforts spearheaded by local divers.
The two Caymanian organizations — Bodden Shipping and the Port Authority — contributed nothing, and said nothing. Sharing in their steadfast silence were Cayman’s elected officials, who have avoided the topic of the crushed reef, as if ignoring the problem would make it go away.
… Now we enter déjà vu territory. Again, a large ship (this time, Mr. Allen’s 303-foot super-yacht Tatoosh), under the direction of port officials, moored at a specified location, with its anchor inadvertently destroying a significant swath of reef. Again, the Department of Environment is investigating.
What happens next? Will our officials attempt to extract restitution from Mr. Allen that they dared not demand of themselves?
(For the record, Mr. Allen is not inimical — or even indifferent — to Mother Nature. In fact, his family foundation has donated millions of dollars to a variety of environmental causes, including mitigating the impacts of ocean acidification, a major threat to coral reef health.)
The identity of the person responsible for a particular incident should make no difference to the application of justice. Whether it’s a corporation, a local captain, the government or an American multi-billionaire — the law should apply (or not apply) equally, to all.
To mix a metaphor rather egregiously: Cayman’s calm waters should be a level playing field.
Nevertheless, the news of the Tatoosh’s accident has spread across the globe, with local and international media predictably “playing up” ancillary details such as Mr. Allen’s wealth, with the effect — if not intent — of casting him in a villainous light.
We have no control over foreign reporting, but we in Cayman should be very careful not to be unfair to prominent people like Mr. Allen, who is a regular visitor and valued ally to our islands, and whose pair of super-yachts, the Tatoosh and its big sister the 414-foot Octopus, both fly Cayman’s red ensign.
Thanks to clients such as Mr. Allen, Cayman has the largest register of super-yachts in the world. In addition to the “super-yacht club,” Mr. Allen belongs to an even more exclusive group — the “billionaire boys’ club.”
Believe us, the members talk amongst themselves. Rest assured that if Mr. Allen believes he is being targeted unfairly by Cayman officials (or being made the object of opprobrium in local society) on account of his wealth, he will share those concerns with his peers.
“So what if he does?” the flippant and foolish among us may retort.
Well, someday it may not just be local divers who are picking over the rubble of a shattered reef; it may be local residents scavenging the remains of a broken economy.