Following weeks of anticipation and hours of debate in the Legislative Assembly, Cayman Islands lawmakers arrived at a consensus in regard to the controversy over the police response to a March incident involving five missing boaters. They agreed on a motion calling for two Caymanian justices of the peace to be assigned to the inquiry team, which is being led by a senior British Coastguard commander.

Lawmakers seem to believe that the inclusion of the two Caymanians — one approved by Premier Alden McLaughlin and one by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush — will aid the investigation and provide reassurance to the local community that the inquiry is fair and impartial.

We couldn’t disagree more.

Who could be better suited to review the police’s search-and-rescue mission than a senior officer from the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency who has coordinated thousands of marine searches over nearly 20 years? Who could be more impartial than someone who has no connection whatsoever to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the governor, the police, the missing boaters or the Cayman Islands in general?

And yet, lawmakers’ grand idea is to inject into the process a pair of political appointees, who may have some link to either the police or the boaters, and who will certainly not possess anywhere near the level of expertise or experience possessed by Coastguard Commander Andrew Jenkins. At best, the political appointees will be unnecessary to the investigation. More probably, they will be hindrances.

In regard to the five people who were lost at sea in March, the full truth should come out. But let’s keep in mind what we already know, including:

  • Between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 6, a fisherman spots Gary Mullings’s 28-foot boat (which is believed to have been carrying four other passengers, including his 9- and 11-year-old nephews) around six miles off the coast of Grand Cayman, with only one of its two engines operating. Weather conditions are worsening.
  • At 3:41 p.m., a cellphone on the boat experiences a “catastrophic disruption,” which could indicate the capsizing of the boat.
  • At 11:57 p.m., police are notified of the missing boaters.
  • At 8:30 a.m. Monday, police mobilize marine vessels and aircraft.
  • At 10:33 a.m., the police helicopter spots the capsized boat. There is no sign of the boaters.

If we are trying to ascertain a complete picture of what happened that ill-fated evening, it seems to us that what has been largely unexplored, certainly in the media, are the actions of the boaters — not the police.

For example, when did they leave shore? Where exactly did they go? Why did they go there? What was the condition of the boat, its contents and its passengers? Why did they not call for help?

Some people have been trying to blame the police for this terrible loss of life. Remember, though, that the two boys were in the care of three adults, who are ultimately responsible for placing themselves and the children in peril.

Our intention, for now, is not to establish blame but to establish cause and responsibility.

Since the boaters went missing, some family members (and voices in other media) have accused police of delaying their response, or even of failing to respond to 911 calls they claimed were made as early as 8:29 p.m. Sunday.

However, all available evidence to date (including from emergency call center officials and the phone company) indicates those earlier calls were never made. As far as has been proved, the first call to police didn’t come in until 11:57 p.m., or nearly midnight. Before then, there was no possibility of searching or rescuing — for the simple reason that the police didn’t know anyone was missing.

Consider this quote from the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze” by Arthur Conan Doyle:

“Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

“To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

“The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes.

That citation has become famously known in literature as “the dog that didn’t bark.”

Likewise, think of the now-discredited early call to the 911 emergency center as “the phone that didn’t ring.”

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  1. What many people do not know is that ALL calls made to 911 is registered, and although they may ask you what is the number you are calling from; they already know the number to the minute you placed that call. So it is useless saying to the public that a call was made at 8:30pm when it was made at 12:57 am. “It is registered”.
    This story continues to dampen and haunt our spirits, but I can see nothing of this which shows negligence by the police whatsoever.
    Here we have more questions than answers; which only those who were on board the boat at those fatal moments can tell.

  2. Twyla. We are in complete agreement.
    At the time the police were called the boat had already been capsized for over 8 hours. Since 3:41pm.

    The fisherman could have offered help. Perhaps he did and it was refused.

    Most certainly the boaters could have either called for rescue before they over-turned or at the least called a family member or friend and just said, “We are having a problem here. One of the engines is out and the seas are getting rough. We’re heading for home but if I don’t call you within the hour please call the rescue services.”

    The helicopter could have been looking for them in daylight and they would probably all be alive and well.

    Very, very sad. But I don’t see how the police were at fault.

  3. Unfortunately, the public response to this whole sad saga has a disturbing resemblance to a still unsolved murder some years ago. Back then by the time anyone bothered to call 911 it appeared that half the local population had been wandering round the crime scene rubber-necking and destroying any evidence. Despite this RCIPS still got blamed for not doing enough to find the killer.