Search and rescue review planned

Police marine unit Inspector Leo Anglin takes Baroness Joyce Anelay on a tour of the unit's headquarters Tuesday. - PHOTO: JAMES WHITTAKER

The U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency will lead a review of the Cayman Islands’ search and rescue capability, Overseas Territories Minister Baroness Joyce Anelay announced in a visit to the police Joint Marine Unit this week.

The review, which she said would be carried out in partnership with Cayman Islanders, will look at the staff, personnel and equipment required to ensure safety and security on Cayman’s waters.

It will also assess the needs of the island, including whether around-the-clock search and rescue capability is required.

The U.K.-funded research project will also look at how new technology, including drones, could be used to supplement search and rescue.

The minster stopped short of guaranteeing any U.K. funding to address gaps identified, but said there would be discussions between the government and the U.K.’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund about further financial support once the report is completed.

Similar reviews will take place across Britain’s overseas territories in the Caribbean, as well as in Bermuda and the Falkland Islands. The project follows a request from the Governor’s Office in the Cayman Islands for a wider review of capability in the aftermath of an incident this year in which five boaters, including two children, went missing at sea.

A U.K. coastguard review of that incident largely vindicated the police response but highlighted more general concerns about upkeep of equipment and staffing levels in the air operations and joint marine units.

Baroness Anelay, who toured the Joint Marine Unit Tuesday, praised the work of the unit as “essential to the security and stability” of the territory.

She said the funding was “recognition of the importance of the Joint Marine Unit and the work that it has been doing, understanding there are some gaps in services that have been identified by the Cayman Islands themselves.

“The research project is to look strategically at how best to deploy the resources that exist to see where there are gaps in those resources and how best they can be met.

“Once that research is concluded and the results are available for scrutiny, it will be a matter of how the government wishes to proceed to develop these services further and there will be discussions about funding with the territory’s government and the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.”

Cayman Islands Governor Helen Kilpatrick said the initial U.K. coastguard review, requested after a public outcry about the speed of the police response to the incident in which the five boaters went missing at sea, had been narrowly focused on that incident. She said the two Caymanian justices of the peace who were involved with the investigation felt the review should be wider in scope. In response to their concerns, she said, her office had put in a bid for funding for a broader review.

The JPs, in their notes on the report, which were seen by the Compass, call for a “full and immediate review” of the air and marine search capability in the Cayman Islands. They also recommended that a risk assessment be carried out on the entire marine sector, including sports fishing, dive operations, snorkeling and “family recreations.”

The review of the incident by U.K. Coastguard Cmdr. Andrew Jenkins found “no major faults” with the police response.

However, he did raise some concerns about oversight and communications during search and rescue operations in the Cayman Islands, as well as staffing levels in the marine and air support units.

Police have only one helicopter pilot, and staffing in the marine unit is less than half of what it is supposed to be, he wrote in the report.

Since the report was published, the RCIPS has recruited a second helicopter pilot.

This story has been amended to reflect the hiring of the second pilot. — Ed.