Firefighters received training from the British Royal Navy this weekend in operating and handling a new boat and WaveRunners in search and rescue operations around Grand Cayman.
The Cayman Islands government bought a rigid hull inflatable boat and five WaveRunners and will use firefighters to assist in marine emergencies.
The police helicopter will also be upgraded with new night vision equipment to help track criminals and aid rescue missions along the coastline after dark.
Both initiatives follow recommendations from a U.K. Coastguard Report in February which highlighted weaknesses in the territory’s search and rescue capability.
The report was commissioned after a high profile tragedy last year, when five boaters, including two children, were lost at sea. An earlier investigation vindicated police response to that incident but recommended a wider review of search and rescue capabilities on the island.
The upgraded helicopter comes as part of a joint project between the U.K. and Cayman Islands governments to enhance a wide range of response capabilities, said Matthew Forbes, head of the Governor’s Office.
“The main reason we’re doing that is we want to bolster border security on the fight against guns and drugs but also for search and rescue as well,” Mr. Forbes said.
The new equipment was delivered by the RFA Mounts Bay naval support ship, which docked in Grand Cayman over the weekend.
The Atlantic 75 boat, from the British Royal National Lifeboat Institute, is designed for inshore search and rescue operations. It will be stationed at West Bay Fire Station and used to provide added cover and quicker reaction time to incidents on the south and west of Grand Cayman, according to the Governor’s Office.
“At the moment we don’t have search and rescue capability on this side of the island. The marine unit is on the other side. So if there is a problem here, they have to trailer the boat over,” Mr. Forbes said.
“So this new boat is going to be stationed at West Bay Fire Station and the Fire Service is going to be trained to use it. That means we’ll have much quicker reaction time for any water-related incidence down this entire side of the island.”
The five WaveRunners, equipped with rescue boards, will be split between the fire service and police to aid response in “inshore law enforcement and surf rescue.”
Home Affairs Minister Tara Rivers, who took a ride on the rigid inflatable boat, said, “It is great to see the deployment of this new equipment to boost our ability to save lives at sea. The fire service is well placed to play a key role in search and rescue both in terms of the location of the fire stations and the lifesaving skills that the fire officers already have.”
Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne said the new night vision capability will improve the police air support unit’s ability to operate safely and effectively at night.
“The upgrade provides us with the latest technology, which significantly boosts our ability to manage search-and-rescue and crime operations after dark,” he said.
The project, jointly funded by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and the U.K.’s Conflict Stability and Security Fund, will involve modifications to the aircraft and provide night vision goggles for the helicopter crew.
Governor Helen Kilpatrick said in a statement that she was pleased to see early practical outcomes stemming from the coastguard review.