Cuban migrant boat remains where it ran aground in January

El Arca landed in Beach Bay in January. The boat is still there nine months later, with some concerned about what happens when it finally breaks up on the rocks. - Photo: Charles Duncan

Twenty-five people from Cuba landed at Beach Bay on Jan. 31 aboard El Arca. The migrants were traveling to Honduras when their boat ran into trouble and landed on the beach in Bodden Town. Those men and women have all since been taken back to Cuba, but their boat remains grounded on the rocks and sand in Beach Bay.

The 24-foot wood-plank boat has been deteriorating since it ran aground almost nine months ago. Phil Robinson, the caretaker at Beach Bay, said he has been watching the boat slowly fall apart as it rocks against the shore.

“With all the weather recently, it’s just disintegrating,” he said.

Thursday morning the boat sat on the rocks, shuddering as each wave hit the boat. A large Mercedes engine, possibly from a tractor, still sits in the bottom of the boat and is now covered in rust. Some of the wooden planks making up the hull have broken.

Plastic bottles, small personal items and other detritus has spread out down the beach, lying amongst the rocks and washed up corals.

Mr. Robinson said his main concern is the engine could dump its oil when the boat falls apart.

Mark Orr, with the Department of Environment, said his officers checked the boat and did not find any hazardous materials that needed to be removed. “They were gone when we checked it,” he wrote in an email to the Cayman Compass.

Mr. Orr said the Immigration Department is responsible for the boat because it is the property of the Cubans who arrived in January. In fact, the Immigration Department removed the boat in South Sound just weeks after it landed near the Red Bay dock, but not before it broke in half on the beach.

Acting Chief Immigration Officer Bruce Smith, responding to questions by email, said his department is responsible for removing the boat but would contract with another agency to do the actual salvage. He did not respond to follow-up questions about why the boat has not yet been removed or what the plans are to get the craft off the beach.

El Arca and its passengers came ashore during a wave of Cuban migration that strained Cayman’s resources. The Immigration Detention Centre could not house them all, so community centers in Bodden Town and East End served as overflow housing for more than 100 men and women at a time.

A wave of migrants left Cuba, worried that warming relations between the U.S. and their country could put an end to the “wet-foot, dry-foot” policy that gives Cubans a relatively easy path to a green card and U.S. citizenship.

During an interview in February, Mr. Robinson said he had hoped to pull the boat up on the beach so people could see the work that went into the Cubans’ voyage. Even at that time, he was warning that the boat could break apart and affect the environment along the beach.


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