Independent review of missing boat response

The Governor’s Office has declared its review of the police response to reports of five boaters missing at sea will be completely independent.

As the search for the three men and two boys officially moved from a “search and rescue” mission to “search and recovery” questions continued to be asked about the speed of the initial police response.

Governor Helen Kilpatrick confirmed in a statement late Thursday that she had agreed to appoint someone to carry out an inquiry following a request from Police Commissioner David Baines.

That statement came several hours after Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush publicly called for an independent inquiry.

Police, aided by the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteer boaters, have searched in vain across 2,000 square miles of ocean, over the past week, for any sign of survivors from the 28-foot Panga boat, which did not return from a fishing trip to 12-Mile Bank Sunday. Gary Mullings, his nephews Nicholas Watler, Kamron Brown, 11, and Kanyi Brown, 9, and his friend Edsell Haylock were on board.

As of Friday, the search area, defined daily through analysis of drift patterns was more than 100 miles off shore.  The family were informed that the operation had switched to a search and recovery mission, an official acknowledgment that the chances of finding any survivors is remote.

Family members told the Compass earlier on Friday they were still clinging to hope,

“I haven’t slept since last Sunday, I haven’t eaten. I just want my husband to come home,” said Kym Watler, 23, whose husband Nicholas, also 23, is among the missing five.

Garbriella Jessica Ebanks, Mr. Watler’s sister, said the family were going through mixed emotions. “Everyone is angry, but they are still hopeful,” she said.

They have been joined by politicians, led by former Premier McKeeva Bush, in raising questions about the police response.

Mr. Bush, said he was not satisfied with the governor’s intervention and wants any investigation to be completely independent of both the police service and the Governor’s Office. He said the inquiry should be carried out by a commissioner appointed through the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Mr. Baines has defended the actions of his officers, but said he had requested an independent review in light of public concerns.

“In order to be transparent about the RCIPS decisions and actions, there should be an independent and complete review of all the circumstances from the first report, to deployment and actions thereafter.”

Governor Kilpatrick said, “I welcome the request from the Commissioner of Police for an independent review of the RCIPS response to this tragic incident. All our thoughts are with the families of those who are missing. A suitably qualified person will be appointed to lead this review and to report to me on its outcome. I intend to make the report public in due course.”

Earlier on Thursday, Mr. Bush circulated a Legislative Assembly private members’ motion, saying an inquiry was needed “to determine the facts of what ensued on Sunday, March 6, 2016 and surrounding matters connected to the disappearance of the five individuals, including an 11-year-old and a nine-year-old child.”

Mr. Bush has listed independent Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden as the seconder on the private members’ motion, suggesting that the proposal has broad support from the opposition side in the assembly.

In the text of the motion, Mr. Bush alleges a “discrepancy” in earlier reports of what occurred by the government Ministry of Home Affairs, and accounts given by members of the missing boaters’ families.

“The recent disappearance at sea of five persons was not handled with [the] efficiency and promptness that is expected,” Mr. Bush states in the motion.

Ministry of Home Affairs officials were not certain what “ministry” reports Mr. Bush’s motion referred to. Day-to-day operations of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service do not fall under the oversight of any government ministry and all media statements on the search effort came directly from the police.

Criticism of the police response, both from family members and the community at large, has centered on the time lag between the first confirmed report of the missing boat at 11:57 p.m. Sunday and the launch of the police helicopter and search boat after 8:30 a.m. the following morning.

Senior officers last week defended their actions, telling the Cayman Compass the response had been prompt and professional.

Air Support Unit Executive Officer Steve Fitzgerald said the weather conditions on Sunday night had ruled out using the police helicopter for an offshore mission.

With no moonlight, low clouds and rain, he said, it would have been impossible, and against aviation regulations, to send the aircraft out.

Mr. Fitzgerald also stood by the police decision not to deploy the aircraft at first light Monday, around 6:30 a.m. He said it was not until later Monday morning, once further interviews had taken place and phone records had been checked, that it emerged the boat was last sighted around six miles offshore and not at 12-Mile Bank as originally indicated.

He said careful preparation had enabled the pilot and crew to conduct an informed and well-planned search that located the missing boat within two hours.

The boat was towed back to George Town harbor by marine police Tuesday afternoon.

“Despite the criticism we have received, our marine officers and our air operations officers have been working tirelessly in this search, and I want them and every other officer who has been involved in this case, whether searching or providing care to victims, to know how much their efforts are noticed and appreciated,” Police Commissioner Baines said at the time. “I also want to thank the volunteers who joined this search both on land and on sea.”

The Governor’s Office has declared its review of the police response to reports of five boaters missing at sea will be completely independent.

As the search for the three men and two boys officially moved from a “search and rescue” mission to “search and recovery” questions continued to be asked about the speed of the initial police response.

Governor Helen Kilpatrick confirmed in a statement late Thursday that she had agreed to appoint someone to carry out an inquiry following a request from Police Commissioner David Baines.

That statement came several hours after Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush publicly called for an independent inquiry.

Police, aided by the U.S. Coast Guard and volunteer boaters, have searched in vain across 2,000 square miles of ocean, over the past week, for any sign of survivors from the 28-foot Panga boat, which did not return from a fishing trip to 12-Mile Bank Sunday. Gary Mullings, his nephews Nicholas Watler, Kamron Brown, 11, and Kanyi Brown, 9, and his friend Edsell Haylock were on board.

As of Friday, the search area, defined daily through analysis of drift patterns was more than 100 miles off shore.  The family were informed that the operation had switched to a search and recovery mission, an official acknowledgment that the chances of finding any survivors is remote.

Family members told the Compass earlier on Friday they were still clinging to hope,
“I haven’t slept since last Sunday, I haven’t eaten. I just want my husband to come home,” said Kym Watler, 23, whose husband Nicholas, also 23, is among the missing five.

Garbriella Jessica Ebanks, Mr. Watler’s sister, said the family were going through mixed emotions. “Everyone is angry, but they are still hopeful,” she said.

They have been joined by politicians, led by former Premier McKeeva Bush, in raising questions about the police response.

Mr. Bush, said he was not satisfied with the governor’s intervention and wants any investigation to be completely independent of both the police service and the Governor’s Office. He said the inquiry should be carried out by a commissioner appointed through the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Mr. Baines has defended the actions of his officers, but said he had requested an independent review in light of public concerns.

“In order to be transparent about the RCIPS decisions and actions, there should be an independent and complete review of all the circumstances from the first report, to deployment and actions thereafter.”

Governor Kilpatrick said, “I welcome the request from the Commissioner of Police for an independent review of the RCIPS response to this tragic incident. All our thoughts are with the families of those who are missing. A suitably qualified person will be appointed to lead this review and to report to me on its outcome. I intend to make the report public in due course.”

Earlier on Thursday, Mr. Bush circulated a Legislative Assembly private members’ motion, saying an inquiry was needed “to determine the facts of what ensued on Sunday, March 6, 2016 and surrounding matters connected to the disappearance of the five individuals, including an 11-year-old and a nine-year-old child.”

Mr. Bush has listed independent Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden as the seconder on the private members’ motion, suggesting that the proposal has broad support from the opposition side in the assembly.

In the text of the motion, Mr. Bush alleges a “discrepancy” in earlier reports of what occurred by the government Ministry of Home Affairs, and accounts given by members of the missing boaters’ families.

“The recent disappearance at sea of five persons was not handled with [the] efficiency and promptness that is expected,” Mr. Bush states in the motion.

Ministry of Home Affairs officials were not certain what “ministry” reports Mr. Bush’s motion referred to. Day-to-day operations of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service do not fall under the oversight of any government ministry and all media statements on the search effort came directly from the police.

Criticism of the police response, both from family members and the community at large, has centered on the time lag between the first confirmed report of the missing boat at 11:57 p.m. Sunday and the launch of the police helicopter and search boat after 8:30 a.m. the following morning.

Senior officers last week defended their actions, telling the Cayman Compass the response had been prompt and professional.

Air Support Unit Executive Officer Steve Fitzgerald said the weather conditions on Sunday night had ruled out using the police helicopter for an offshore mission.

With no moonlight, low clouds and rain, he said, it would have been impossible, and against aviation regulations, to send the aircraft out.

Mr. Fitzgerald also stood by the police decision not to deploy the aircraft at first light Monday, around 6:30 a.m. He said it was not until later Monday morning, once further interviews had taken place and phone records had been checked, that it emerged the boat was last sighted around six miles offshore and not at 12-Mile Bank as originally indicated.

He said careful preparation had enabled the pilot and crew to conduct an informed and well-planned search that located the missing boat within two hours.

The boat was towed back to George Town harbor by marine police Tuesday afternoon.

“Despite the criticism we have received, our marine officers and our air operations officers have been working tirelessly in this search, and I want them and every other officer who has been involved in this case, whether searching or providing care to victims, to know how much their efforts are noticed and appreciated,” Police Commissioner Baines said at the time. “I also want to thank the volunteers who joined this search both on land and on sea.”

Compass journalist Brent Fuller also contributed to reporting on this story.

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