Three men and two boys, ages 9 and 11, were missing at sea Monday afternoon as fears grew for their safety following the discovery of their capsized fishing boat.
The police helicopter, assisted by a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 aircraft and several private vessels, continued to search the waters around Grand Cayman Monday afternoon for the five missing boaters, named by family members as Gary Mullings, Edsell Haylock, Nicholas Watler, Kamron Brown, 11, and his brother Kanyi Brown, 9.
The distraught mother of the two boys, Melody Mullings-Brown, said Monday morning she was going through hell waiting for news of her children, who had been on their first deep-sea fishing trip, with their uncle, Gary Mullings.
“I’m just hoping to see my kids again …,” she said. “They are the bubbliest kids ever. They bring joy wherever they go. They are happy; they are just my joy.”
As news emerged that the capsized boat had been discovered, there were emotional scenes around the George Town Police Station where family members had gathered, and nearby where a church group was leading a prayer vigil for the missing men and children on the lawn of the former government headquarters.
Some vented their anger at the police, whom they accused of being too slow to begin searching for the missing boat, a blue 28-foot Panga-style boat with twin 85 horsepower Yamaha engines.
Earlier, the boys’ father Imron Brown told the Cayman Compass his brother-in-law had taken the boys on a fishing trip Sunday while he and his wife were at work. He said he had not realized they were going so far out to sea, but later discovered they had been fishing at 12-Mile Bank.
It was late in the day before he realized they had not returned, and the family began to gather at the police station to ask for help.
Police say the Air Support Unit had only one pilot available and deemed it was too late at that point – around midnight – to begin a helicopter search across such a wide area of ocean.
A spokesperson for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service said the helicopter was deployed Monday morning and its crew spotted the overturned vessel 20 miles southwest of Grand Cayman at 11 a.m.
She said, “Further search efforts are under way around the vessel and in the nearby area. So far, no survivors have been found.”
The boat had not been recovered by press time Monday, but search vessels had sighted debris from the vessel in the area where the helicopter had earlier seen the boat, the spokesperson said.
A family friend, with his own boat, began the search overnight, returning at 4 a.m., while other boaters joined the search Monday morning.
Mr. Brown said, “We have five Caymanians on a boat drifting away from the Cayman Islands. The government has a helicopter, all kinds of speedboats and there are two small babies on board – an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old – my babies. What is so complicated to go out and try to find them?”
Police insist the search began as soon as possible, and they are continuing their search.
“The Air Support Unit determined that a search and rescue could not be undertaken across this wide area in the middle of the night with only one pilot available, and that to do so would endanger both pilot and crew. The Joint Marine Unit also assessed that due to rough seas and no air support, police marine vessels could not be deployed until the morning,” according to a statement.
A police marine boat, the Guardian, briefly joined the search Monday morning but encountered rough seas and returned to port after sustaining damage.
Ms. Mullings-Brown said Kamron, a student at John Gray High School, and Kanyi, a student at Red Bay Primary, were on their first fishing trip.
She said she had not realized her brother had taken them fishing until late in the day. It was after 10 p.m. when she got a call from her husband to go and check her brother’s house. At that point, she realized the boat had not returned and she drove to the police station, where extended family members of the five people on board were still gathered Monday morning.
Mr. Mullings’s niece Venicia Mullings thanked the members of the community who had rallied round to support them, including those who had gone out on boats to search. She said she did not understand why the police could not send the helicopter out at night to look for the missing boat.
According to the police statement, the boat was reportedly seen leaving 12-Mile Bank between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday with one engine operating.
Police say there was no distress call from the boat and later investigations revealed there had been no active communication on one of the men’s cellphones since 2:47 p.m. A phone belonging to another man on the boat was disconnected at 3:41 p.m. Sunday afternoon, police said. All boats, cruise ships and the U.S. Coast Guard were alerted overnight to the missing vessel’s description and picture.
The police statement added, “We understand the families’ grief and anguish and express our sadness at these circumstances. We will continue to be available to provide all information and answers to their questions and will continue the search and rescue operation.”