An abandoned Cuban boat that has been beached in South Sound since May 6 will be removed within a few days, Cayman Islands Immigration Department officials said Monday.
The makeshift boat, which is beginning to break up in the pounding surf on the beach near Miss Lassie’s House, arrived in Grand Cayman on May 6 with 43 Cubans aboard. All of them were taken into custody by the Immigration Department.
However, the watercraft, with its oil drums and rusty engine, has remained at the location since then.
On Monday – more than two weeks later – nearby resident Steve Lorimer notified the Department of Environment about the craft, which he was concerned would cause an environmental hazard if it drifted back into the sea with significant amounts of fuel on board.
“I notice that the boat is rapidly deteriorating,” Mr. Lorimer said. “There is an engine in there, which probably has engine oil and fuel … at some point that’s going to leak. There is some sense of urgency here.
”I don’t want to see it getting left to the point at which we have an oil spill.”
The Department of Environment responded to Mr. Lorimer’s report by stating crews had already gone out last Thursday to remove any remaining fuel canisters from inside the wreck. They found dozens of containers.
“We received a report that the vessel was breaking apart, so enforcement officers Mark Orr and Chadd Bush removed batteries and containers of fuel to prevent a pollution incident,” said DoE’s Scott Slaybaugh. “Twenty-seven of the containers were full and the others empty.”
The watercraft in South Sound is not the first makeshift vessel to have landed illegally on Cayman’s shores in recent months to be left to the whims of the tide. On Jan. 31, the Cuban craft El Arca came ashore in Beach Bay and was still there about a month later, as residents expressed many of the same concerns regarding damage to the environment.
In the case of the South Sound boat, Deputy Chief Immigration Officer Garfield Wong said the Public Works Department is generally tasked with removing Cuban vessels after their arrival.
“The current problem that we were told as to why this vessel has not yet been removed is because of a hole in the hull,” Mr. Wong said. “They are unable to tow it to the dock to be removed forthwith.”
It appears some serious effort will be required to remove the boat from the land side, Mr. Wong said.
“[Public Works] is in the process of arranging for a crane to attempt to lift it out the water and store it accordingly. Hopefully, this will be accomplished [Monday or Tuesday].”
The abandoned vessels are another example of costs to the Cayman Islands public sector from the large influx of Cuban migrants over the past two years. The government has spent more than US$1 million in each of the last two years on expenses related to the influx of migrants.
Immigration Department officials currently have 116 Cuban migrants in custody at various locations, with a little less than half now being kept at community centers on Grand Cayman.
The overflow housing was required due to the arrival of 69 migrants in the islands since April 21, immigration officials said Wednesday, outpacing the rate at which they could be repatriated to Cuba.
“[The] Immigration Detention Centre is currently filled to capacity,” a statement from the department on May 12 indicated. “The remaining migrants are distributed throughout various community centers on island.”