Reckless watercraft riders are putting lives at risk by ignoring basic marine laws, according to concerned dive operators in Grand Cayman.
The issue is one of a number of concerns about risky behavior on the ocean as tourism grows. A meeting is planned between police and business owners in an effort to improve the situation.
Dive operator Divetech reported an incident to police last week in which jet-skiers ignored a dive flag and mowed through a group of divers. According to company owner Jo Mikutowicz, a diver was coming to the surface near the boat and was almost hit by a jet ski.
“One of my dive instructors saw what was happening and was able to pull him under the water. The jet ski went right over the top of them,” she said.
“I thought I was going to watch one of our divers get hit head-on.”
All marine craft, including Jet Skis and WaveRunners, are required to reduce speed to a maximum of 3 knots and maintain a lookout when they are within 200 yards of a boat displaying a dive flag, to avoid striking divers as they rise to the surface.
Ms. Mikutowicz says the rule is rarely respected. In this case, she said the jet-skiers were oblivious to the presence of divers in the water, despite the fact that the red and white dive flag was clearly flying and dive staff on board the boat were shouting at them to slow down.
“Something like this happens to all of the dive operators almost every day on the water and it is time for it to stop,” she added.
Ash McKnight, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association’s director for water sports and the owner of GoPro Diving, said concern was growing among responsible business owners about the environment on the water.
“There are problems all over the place,” Mr. McKnight said. “It is not just WaveRunners. There’s problems at Stingray City with overcrowding and the overloading of tour boats; there are issues with illegal operators; there is very little enforcement of marine laws.”
CITA businesses had an initial meeting with police earlier this month. Mr. McKnight said he was helping to facilitate a further meeting between police and all water-sports businesses, not just CITA members. He believes more work needs to be done to educate new water-sports businesses and marine users in general on the law.
Ms. Mikutowicz believes urgent action is needed. She said dive operators did not know who to call to get help in such situations.
“For any of the dive operators working on the west side, this is a daily occurrence,” she said. “It has been happening for a long time but last week’s incident was as close a call as I have seen. I almost watched somebody get hit by a jet ski and it was scary.”
Though reports of reckless watercraft riders fall under the Port Authority Law, the law only gives port officers powers of enforcement within the immediate port area. Marine police are responsible for the rest of the island’s waters.
Police have advised dive operators to call them with reports of similar incidents.
Acting Inspector Damenian Maxwell, of the Joint Marine Unit, said the offenders were often cruise ship tourists, who are on island for just a few hours. He said if they were found committing an offense, they could face prosecution.
The Joint Marine Unit has increased patrols off Seven Mile Beach in response to complaints.
Inspector Maxwell said officers were also talking to water sports companies to ensure proper safety briefings were carried out before they rent jet skis to tourists.