Firefighters on Jet Skis could be used to supplement search and rescue efforts around the Cayman Islands following recommendations in a new report.
The police Joint Marine Unit is understaffed and underresourced, with a high number of vessels in a “state of disrepair or out of service,” according to the U.K. coastguard report.
Investment in repairing or replacing boats with long-range capability is highlighted as a “top priority” in the Overseas Territory Search and Rescue Capability Review.
It says the police marine fleet is currently “insufficient to provide an effective search and rescue response” and recommends the fire service take over some of the responsibility.
Tabling the report in the Legislative Assembly on Monday, Acting Deputy Governor Jennifer Ahearn said government had immediately moved to provide funding for the repair of one long-range patrol boat. She said funds would also be freed up to equip the fire service to be involved in search and rescue.
A strategic committee will be formed to oversee search and rescue in the Cayman Islands and implement the findings of the coastguard report, she said.
Other recommendations include measures to improve emergency call handling procedures for incidents at sea and an idea to train local boaters to form a volunteer search and rescue force.
The report also suggests investigating the possibility of using drones in marine searches, establishing a “dive response network” to harness the expertise of the scuba diving community and potentially putting lifeguards on busy beaches.
The report follows a high-profile tragedy last year in which five boaters, including two children, were lost at sea. A report into that incident largely vindicated the police response but recommended a broader investigation into the Cayman Islands’ search and rescue response capabilities.
Commissioned by Governor Helen Kilpatrick and carried out by the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the report calls for a committee to be established to oversee joint operations between police and other agencies and establish clear roles for everyone involved in search and rescue.
It suggests the marine unit take an oversight role in the process, sourcing training packages for staff, firefighters and volunteers and taking responsibility for longer-range offshore searches.
Key concerns include the current state of the Joint Marine Unit’s fleet.
“Currently, only two of the JMU vessels are serviceable, with both long-range vessels decommissioned or out of service. The remaining two serviceable crafts are rigid hull inflatable boats and are only suitable for inshore response,” the report states.
Given the size of the search and rescue area around the Cayman Islands, the limited number of assets in the region and risks, including cruise vessels, migrant traffic, the marine and fishing industry, the report cautions that the marine fleet is insufficient.
It recommends the urgent repair or replacement of the unit’s long-range offshore vessels as a “top priority.”
For in-shore response it suggests the fire service should take over.
It states that stationing “waverunners” with fire departments around the island and training staff in search and rescue would cut response times and reduce the burden on the marine unit, which is currently at 50 percent of its recommended staffing level.
It also highlights a lack of formal training for search and rescue personnel and recommends that the Joint Marine Unit take responsibility for implementing a training calendar for all emergency services staff and volunteers involved in the process.