50 years ago: Bunkering station raises environmental concerns

In the April 26, 1967 edition of the Caymanian Weekly, a precursor of the Cayman Compass, environmental concerns about a proposed bunkering station were published in response to the paper’s cautionary editorial on the risks posed by oil spills:

“Following the editorial of last week, Mr. Fossie Arch has made available to us the view of Dr. J. Lear Grimmer on the subject of the proposed establishment of a bunkering station here:

“‘Such activity would spell sure and immediate doom for the future of tourism and all of the progress that the island has enjoyed in the last several years. Let me tell you why I so firmly believe that the oil industry would render Grand Cayman a most undesirable place to live for all of us.

“‘I have spent most of my life as a professional zoologist specialising in conservation and preservation of animal life and biological resources, so my concept of any area is based on the viewpoint of how well the present animal species populations are thriving and what animals and flora have disappeared as a result of man’s depredations. This is a direct and scientific measure of the pollution and contamination which has been visited upon such land and water. I have not found one area where bunkering or refinery activities were present that has not rendered the waters unfit for marine life and the adjacent shores and beaches oily with the contaminates of heavy and light fuel oils. These observations have covered a great deal of the western hemisphere as well as the Mediterranean and the near east to India and beyond. There is no intelligent person who will unequivocally guarantee that such operations will not “spill or leak a little now and then, or that accidents cannot happen.”

“‘Perhaps you have read … of the Torrey Canyon, the tanker which broke up [last month] off the shores of England. The crude oil from this accident threatened 1,070 miles of resort beach with a sticky, smelly mess. Much of the prime beach area was spared absolute destruction by the actions of Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who ordered the bombing of the wrecked freighter to set the cargo on fire. The partial clean-up of the resort area with hundreds of tons of detergent materials and employment of thousands of men, plus the Royal Navy and Coast Guard, is costing millions of dollars.

“There will be long stretches of beaches unfit for use for many years, both in England and France. Perhaps some will read a divine and timely warning in this incident relative to the present proposal exposing this small island to a similar disaster. I regard the incident as one which has happened many times before and will happen as long as there are men to make errors of judgment. Even a small amount of spillage or leakage in the transfer and storage of petroleum products due to bunkering will build up and eventually affect the shores of Grand Cayman, no matter what the prevailing winds and currents are, or what assurance is given by feasibility studies from “internationally known private organisiations who are engaged in oceanography” employed by the prospective licencee.’”