Significant damage was done to a coral reef in George Town harbor early Friday after a 328-foot cargo vessel struck the shallow area with its hull, Department of Environment officials said.

Department Deputy Director Scott Slaybaugh said the accident happened around 6 a.m. when the cargo ship Saga was leaving the George Town dock after depositing its goods. Mr. Slaybaugh said the ship’s hull appears to have made direct contact with the reef, an unusual occurrence in the harbor where most coral damage is the result of ships’ anchorage.

“As they were maneuvering away from the dock, they got it into the shallow reef,” Mr. Slaybaugh said. “There is significant coral reef damage.”

Port Authority officials were not available for comment over the weekend.

Department of Environment crews made a quick check of the area Friday and were due to go out again Monday for a more in-depth survey. The cargo ship was kept in George Town port for the time being, Mr. Slaybaugh said.

Chris Bodden, manager at Paradise Snorkel and Diving, went out to inspect the damage Friday and again Saturday, and took underwater videos.

“It’s pretty bad,” Mr. Bodden said. “There’s two or three chunks of coral broken off that are the size of a Volkswagen. It looks like somebody took a jackhammer to the top of the reef.”

Department of Environment officials said the damage occurred in the northern area of a coral reef formation just off the coast where the Paradise restaurant and the Eden Rock dive center are located along the waterfront. The reef is in fairly shallow water and is frequently visited by snorkelers.

Mr. Slaybaugh said part of that area is a marine park protected zone. The cargo vessel had to be pulled off the reef by a tugboat on Friday, he said.

The Ministry of Environment said late Friday that it was aware of the coral reef damage incident and would seek restitution from the responsible party.

This still from video shot by diver Chris Bodden shows some of the coral sheared off by the ship's hull.
This still from video shot by diver Chris Bodden shows some of the coral sheared off by the ship’s hull.

“The environment is Cayman’s most precious commodity and a viable public asset that affects our way of life,” the ministry statement read. “Any purported damage to our natural resources is a matter of grave concern. Once the true environmental impact of this incident is identified, the ministry will be taking legal advice on the next course of action.”

Cayman’s National Conservation Law makes destruction of coral reefs, whether accidental or otherwise, illegal. The change to the law took effect in 2015.

Environment Minister Wayne Panton told the Legislative Assembly earlier this year that there had been five “major” incidents of reef damage here since May 2013, when his Progressives-led government took office. In most of those cases, Mr. Panton said, the reef damage was caused by the ship’s anchor.

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  1. Distressing but hardly surprising.

    I remember diving on this Eden Rocks / Devils Grotto over 30 years ago. As you entered the water you were greeted by dozens of hungry sergeant-major fish and yellow tail snappers looking for a free meal.

    All gone.

    And the dive itself was a delight of vibrant, live coral.

    All dead rock now.

    It used to be that you could stand on 7 mile beach and see a line of dive boats moored at the various dive sites. Even with the greatly increased number of tourists there are less dive boats out now.

    Less to see.

    Very sad.