The popular USS Kittiwake shipwreck has been deemed safe for divers, but concerns persist about the threat it now poses to natural coral reef.
The wreck toppled in heavy seas and now lies on its side, wedged against a section of reef, close to another dive site known as Sand Chute.
A chunk of reef was chipped off as the 2,200-ton wreck shifted position, reigniting fears that it could move again in future storms causing more significant damage.
The Department of Environment said in a statement that the impact from the recent incident was minimal and it would not seek compensation. But previous storms have shifted the wreck more than 50 feet from its original resting place on a shallow sandy bottom off Seven Mile Beach and it now poses a much greater threat to the reef.
“Movement such as has been observed at the Kittiwake is not completely unexpected during a storm event,” the Department of Environment said in a statement.
“This is why the DoE has consistently recommended against the placement of artificial wrecks and other objects on the seabed around the Cayman Islands as our extremely narrow marine shelf makes it is very difficult to place these structures at any safe distance from living reef.”
Further damage to the reef is likely and it would be futile to seek to restore the damaged section, which was confined to a 5 by 3 meter area, the statement indicates.
“Although no longer touching the reef, the ship currently lies very close to it and future contact with the reef can be expected with other large storm events. This suggests that repair of the identified damage is not advisable at this stage.”
The Department of Environment said it would work with the Cayman Islands Tourism Association to monitor the site.
CITA advised Tuesday that it had commissioned an examination of the wreck and given the all-clear for water sports operators to resume snorkel and dive trips.
“The official assessment report as at Monday afternoon, indicates that moorings are safe for boats to tie up to, and visitors are still able to see the entire wreck from the surface, hence making for a visible and interesting snorkel spot,” CITA, which manages the site, said in a statement.
The association is advising scuba dive operators to ensure their staff dive the site first, without customers, to get used to the new layout before guiding visitors.
Jo Mikutowicz, owner of Divetech, which led Monday’s assessment of the site, said it was still just as accessible as it had been previously.
She said, “It is still the same Kittiwake, it is just lying on its side. I went through the wreck and took the same route. It was a little bit different, obviously, but it can still be fully penetrated. It is definitely safe for divers.”
She said the wreck was well embedded in the sand and it would take a severe storm to shift it. She said Divetech had advised CITA there was a possibility that further storms could push it on to the reef, however.