The Cayman Islands has already seen at least as many water-related deaths in the first five months of this year than it did for all of 2017, according to statistics released by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service.
Seven of the water deaths to occur so far in 2018 involve visitors from the U.S. who were between the ages of 57 and 83.
The latest incident happened Saturday in East End when a 57-year-old man got into trouble while snorkeling. He was brought to shore by onlookers and taken to the Cayman Islands Hospital where he later died.
Six of the seven visitors experienced difficulties while they were out on snorkeling or swimming trips; the seventh visitor death involved a 70-year-old diver.
Another death, reported April 2, involved a 76-year-old West Bay man who had been out fishing when he got into distress. The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service clarified that incident was not being recorded as water-related due to the circumstances surrounding it.
A possible eighth fatality involves missing swimmer Linvol Smith on Cayman Brac, who disappeared over the long holiday weekend. Searches for Mr. Smith were called off Monday.
Cayman recorded seven water-related fatalities for all of 2017, according to the RCIPS annual report released earlier this month.
It saw a higher number, 11 water-related deaths, for 2016. However, that year saw a tragedy involving five Caymanian boaters – including two children – being lost at sea on the same craft.
The 2016 incident led to an overall review of Cayman’s marine response capability for both water rescues and interdiction of drugs and weapons shipments.
The RCIPS, working with the local fire service, put five new Wave Runners in service to help with search-and-rescue efforts near the coasts, speeding marine officers’ ability to respond to emergency calls.
Cayman’s long-range patrol craft, the Guardian, was sent to Miami for a refit and was expected to be back in Cayman sometime during this year, police noted.
The RCIPS has also been training its officers and some civilian support staff on underwater searches and diving exercises, including an April 30 search-and-rescue exercise at the site of the Kittiwake wreck off Seven Mile Beach. The dive team went to Cayman Brac last weekend to search for Mr. Smith.
The RCIPS helicopter has been outfitted with night-vision imaging to aid in search and rescue, as well as crime-related searches as part of the effort to bolster marine response capabilities.
The police service may be adding other assets to its aerial patrols in the near future, according to the annual report.
“The RCIPS has obtained … permission to operate small, unmanned surveillance aircraft and [is] currently operating the technology with a view to developing a wider capability in support of existing resources,” the police report noted.
The Cayman Islands Joint Marine Unit responded to 36 vessels in distress calls during 2017 and an additional 16 calls for people in distress in local waters, according to police statistics. There were seven people reported missing at sea last year in the Cayman Islands.
In addition, the unit investigated 62 incidents of marine-related thefts, police said.