A cargo ship captain had decided to drop pilot services for the George Town port weeks before it crashed into Eden Rock, shearing off large sections from the top of the popular George Town reef.
The Saga was backing out of the port before 6 a.m. Friday and attempted to make a turn, according to Department of Environment Deputy Director Tim Austin. The 328-foot ship had not backed out far enough and ran into the reef, he said.
Capt. Abel Medina, a longtime pilot in Cayman’s port, told the Cayman Compass on Monday that he had been the pilot for the Saga for its frequent trips into Cayman, but several weeks ago the Russian crew said they no longer needed his services.
“The captain said he can do it on his own,” Captain Medina said.
There are only two pilots in Cayman’s port, and Captain Medina said neither was aboard to help the Saga get out of the port.
The Saga is owned by Cayman-based Hyde Shipping Ltd. The company declined to comment on Monday.
The Port Authority would not comment on the accident, directing all questions to the Department of Environment. The Authority’s Joseph Woods said the decision on whether to have a pilot rests with the captain of the ship.
The Saga was still anchored off the port on Monday. Mr. Austin said the ship and its crew stayed in Cayman voluntarily.
“The structure of the reef is seriously impaired,” Mr. Austin said shortly after diving the site on Monday to see the damage firsthand. He said the Department of Environment is mapping the damage and hopes to have a better sense of all the damage.
Andy Barnes, with Eden Rock Dive Center, also dove the site Monday morning to inspect the reef. “The damage has been done to the best section of the reef,” he said. “It’s destroyed the site.”
He said entrances to many of the swim-throughs have been blocked by pieces of coral weighing several tons each, and the area is littered with rubble from sponges and hard corals destroyed in the accident.
“It took thousands of years of growth to make those tunnels,” Mr. Barnes said.
The damage on the reef is clear, with areas sheared off from the tops of five of the tallest coral heads at 10 to 12 feet.
Large brain corals lay shattered on the sea floor, with their calcified white interior exposed. Smashed piles of other hard corals rest on the reef and the seabed.
Deepa Sudame, a diving instructor with Eden Rock, said it was like the reef had its “head chopped off.”
She said the remaining swim-throughs seem precarious. “They do not look strong enough,” she said.
“It’s heartbreaking to see,” she said, “It was such a beautiful reef.”
A previous version of this story said The Saga is a Cayman-flagged cargo ship. In fact, the ship is not registered with the Cayman Islands Shipping Registry. — Ed.