A loophole in the Marine Conservation Law prevented the Cayman government from pursuing charges against the Carnival Magic cruise ship or the local pilot who caused a ship anchor to destroy about 16,000 square feet of reef in 2014, Environment Minister Wayne Panton told the Legislative Assembly Wednesday.
The Marine Conservation Law, which has since been replaced by the National Conservation Law, made it an offense to destroy reef intentionally. Since the cruise ship dropped its anchor in the wrong place by accident, Mr. Panton said, it was not a legal offense.
The new National Conservation Law makes any coral destruction illegal, regardless of intent, with that section of the law having come into effect in April 2015.
Mr. Panton, responding to a question at the Legislative Assembly, said there had been five major incidents of reefs damaged by vessels since his government came to office in 2013.
He told fellow legislators, “Either through recklessness, or through negligence or incompetence, vessels have anchored, and instead of having their chains within sand bottom and having their anchor in clear sand bottom, they end up either anchoring on a reef or anchoring near the reef and having the chain put out too long, coming back and damaging live coral.”
These incidents, he said, “reflect perhaps good intentions but bad executions.”
Mr. Panton added, “This is a reflection of an unfortunate reality that these risks will exist.”
The new National Conservation Law makes it an offense for anyone who “directly or indirectly cuts, carves, injures, mutilates, removes, displaces or breaks any underwater coral or plant growth or formation in Cayman waters.”
The Carnival Magic destroyed about 16,000 square feet of live coral in late August 2014. In the widely reported incident, a pilot with Bodden Shipping directed the ship to drop anchor in the wrong spot, causing the anchor and chain to destroy a large swath of coral off Don Foster’s Dive shop in George Town.
Mr. Panton said the ship had requested an alternate site to anchor because of the weather that day.
The minister said government had not pursued charges against the ship or the pilot because they had not intended to damage the coral.
Carnival and its insurance company ultimately paid more than $100,000 to help repair the damage.
Since the incident, a volunteer-led effort has been working to rebuild the reef. Lois Hatcher, one of the leaders of the reef rehabilitation effort, said they are “99 percent done” with the restoration.
“All of the heavy work is done now,” she said Wednesday. They are still working on attaching small pieces of coral and doing maintenance work around the site.
As for the lack of prosecution, Ms. Hatcher said, “Nobody ever intends to destroy a reef.”
She added, “That’s a big loophole and it allows people to be irresponsible.”
The new National Conservation Law closes that loophole, but, Ms. Hatcher said, it’s still up to government to enforce the rules.