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.

Neither the police air support unit nor the marine unit is currently on duty around the clock.

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.

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  1. That is a shame that the Police Marine Department have to be begging government for funds to obtain new parts and fix their fleet. Its not that the Government does not have the money; they do, but it is not put to the right things.
    The police department, on a whole should never have to be begging for cars, boats, helicopter, uniforms or a good salary. They are the people who protect us while we sleep. The police should not be going to dump yards looking for car or boat parts. Yet when there is a crime being committed on sea, or on your street, everyone shouts, where is the police. Ever wondered how they suppose to get to you out there if they have no boat, ever wondered how they can get to you if you are being robed. It is not good to give spare change to the police departments. Pennies cant buy car and boat parts, neither can tipping them once every four years help. Just imagine taking your car or boat in once every four years for service and see what happens.

  2. How can both the Police Marine Unit’s long range boats be out of service?. The photo shows a brand new craft, what happened to this one?. Over the years this unit has had consistent problems largely involving human error, in running boats onto the reef. In addition it seems that lack of maintenance is a serious issue. This is the sort of problem that is so prevalent in third world Afican countries. Someone needs to get to the source of these problems before band-aiding them with firefighters who will then be unavailable to fight fires.

  3. Twyla. Absolutely agree that there should be sufficient funds provided to enable the police marine units to repair or replace their boats.

    Search and rescue at sea, especially at night, is a real problem. Easy fix. There are satellite /GPS based units designed for marine use that give off a traceable signal to enable rescuers to go straight to the stricken vessel.

    Examples here:

    Could this type of gear be made more widely available for offshore use? Could they be made duty free to reduce their cost?

  4. What I think the real problems here is some of what Mr. Davies has pointed out , which is lack of many different things why we don’t have a proper search and rescue operation . The Governor can not read from a report and make any recommendations on what is needed for a search and rescue operation to be put in operation .

    Taking the Fire department away from their daily job to put and tigh them up in a search , is not a good idea . Not saying that the fire department should not be also trained in search and rescue operations, and that rescue operation should not be done under the Fire department .

    The rescue operation needs to be done by like the Coast Guard that have knowledge and experience and qualifications .
    A search and rescue operation need to have qualified volunteer that can do their work day and night , and working on the ocean in the night time doesn’t take the ordinary day time boat man , that is why we have too many boat now out of service along with other factors.

  5. What the real problem here is that the Governments have been mean with spending money giving them enough in the budget to be able to buy good parts and other items for smooth sailing. If you are being mean with the funds in this area what else would one expect. Expecting the Chief to take it from his pocket. No, that should not be so. Besides they have personnel who are well trained in repairs and maintenance of these boats, and we should not expect them to cut cloth from the top and add it to the bottom hoping that it will make the curtain any longer. Get the drift.