A separate collection of documents regarding the search for five missing Caymanian boaters including two children, was released on Monday.
The details in the records come from two local Justices of the Peace who participated in a review of the March 6-8 search and appeared to dispute some of the findings and methods used in compiling that report.
The five boaters, Gary Mullings, his nephews Nicholas Watler, Kamron Brown, 11, and Kanyi Brown, 9, and his friend Edsell Haylock were reported missing on March 6, after they did not return from a fishing trip to 12 Mile Bank. Their overturned vessel was located 20 miles offshore the following day. Its occupants were never found.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said Friday that the two Cayman Islands JPs, Kirkland Nixon and Mary Lawrence, who participated in the recent review of the incident by U.K. Coastguard Commander Andrew Jenkins, would produce their own evaluation of the situation.
“We are going to get a report from the two of them,” Mr. Bush said Friday.
Mr. Nixon, Cayman’s former fire chief, said last week that he had no plan to issue such a report and was not sure what Mr. Bush was speaking about. Mr. Nixon said he met with MLAs Friday to discuss the issue. He said the two JPs had made some comments on the coastguard commander’s review and indicated there was concern those comments had not been included in the final report.
Mr. Nixon did not characterize what was given to MLAs Friday as a “report,” but said details of the documents were discussed with the premier and opposition leader.
The documents obtained by the Cayman Compass are essentially a collection of commentary, the author of which is not always clear, that refer to certain aspects of the search review.
The JPs objected to not seeing a final copy of Commander Jenkins’ report prior to its being made public in the Legislative Assembly and alleged that “changes” were made from an earlier draft of the document they saw.
“We can see why we were not given sight of the report prior to its publication as there is no way we could agree to a blanket statement that ‘the review found no major faults with the search and rescue response to the incident, either with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service or the 911 Emergency Centre,’” one document noted.
That comment is contained in a six-page document which is not signed, but is dated June 2 – the day after Commander Jenkins’ report was made public in the Legislative Assembly.
The documentation also includes two pages of recommendations by the JPs that included a call for a “full and immediate review” of the air and marine search capability in the Cayman Islands. The JPs also recommended that a risk assessment be carried out on the entire marine sector, including sports fishing, dive operations, snorkeling and “family recreations.”
These recommendations were not included in the final report.
“It was not part of the terms of reference for Commander Jenkins to address long-term policy issues for a local search and rescue capability,” a statement issued Monday from the governor’s office read. “He was asked only to look at the response to the incident on March 6 and his report reflects that.
“It will be for the Cayman Islands government to consider the observations that Commander Jenkins made about national search and rescue capability. The governor’s office is not responsible for the allocation of resources.”
A third document, unsigned but apparently written by Ms. Lawrence – who stated Mr. Nixon had reviewed and concurred with its contents – contained a list of questions about the missing boaters investigation.
Those included queries regarding:
Why certain local fisherman who reported contact with the missing boat the evening of March 6 were not contacted or interviewed for the report
Why the police critical incident manager in the search was not interviewed
Why there was no call to the port from the RCIPS to alert vessels in the 12 Mile Bank area about the missing craft
Why no ‘incident room’ was set up to coordinate the response to the missing boaters
What was the reason for the poor repair in which the Marine Unit vessel, the Guardian, was in at the time of the search.
The final report of the emergency response to reports of five boaters missing at sea found “no major faults” with the police-led search and rescue effort.
It did raise some concerns about oversight and communications during search and rescue operations, as well as staffing levels in the marine and air support units. Police have only one helicopter pilot, and the marine unit is critically understaffed, Commander Jenkins noted.
The seven-page question document given to lawmakers by the two JPs also raised concerns about the potential for interference in Commander Jenkins’s review.
“I was rather surprised by the fact that, in our meetings with [Mr. Jenkins], officials from the governor’s office were present and actively participating,” the document, apparently penned by Ms. Lawrence, stated.
Opposition Leader Bush questioned the integrity of the independent review, inferring that the effort had been directed by the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office – particularly by the governor’s chief of staff Gary Benham.
“The report that came back was not signed [by either of the JPs],” Mr. Bush said. “Were they able to do any work? Or was this the whitewash that I anticipated?”
Mr. Benham responded Monday to Mr. Bush’s concerns:
“The governor agreed that two observers [referring to the two JPs] to provide oversight to the review carried out by Commander Andrew Jenkins of the U.K.’s Maritime & Coastguard Agency. Commander Jenkins met several times with the two individuals and presented them with a draft of the report that he produced. We understand that Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Nixon provided their thoughts on this draft report directly to Commander Jenkins and we further understand that Commander Jenkins has replied to these, although we do not have this correspondence.
“Aside from arranging introductory meetings and a final debrief with the independent observers, the governor’s office had no input into Commander Jenkins’ programme and did not attend any of his meetings. Furthermore, the Governor’s Office made no comment on the draft report that Commander Jenkins left as he departed Cayman. The Governor’s Office has not received a report from Ms. Lawrence and Mr. Nixon.”