An SOS call to Cayman Brac

Raymond Scott - Photo: Sister Islands News Agency

From his Cayman Brac home, Raymond Scott works around the clock to keep the seas safe. Through marine radio communications, he has facilitated hundreds of rescues in Cayman waters, with no reimbursement from government for that work.

When a vessel sends out a distress signal near Cayman, it is often Scott who answers the call and coordinates the rescue efforts.

Scott developed a love of the sea from a young age. He observed his older brother take to life at sea and would follow in his footsteps, joining Cayman Energy in the ’70s.

As part of the Cayman Compass #SaveOurStories series, Scott shared some experiences from his seafaring days and his current work facilitating emergency rescues. Below are his stories in his own words.

Brac shipping business

I was with Cayman Energy, which was an American company. I started out in 1978. I think it was in March or April 1978. I was 16 years old. My brother, Captain Radley Scott, was here on the island. He went to Captain Van Der Linde, the owner of [Cayman Energy].

I did mention that I would be interested in working with my brother or working on the tankers as well. At that time, there were not that many jobs around in Cayman Brac and this company was paying a salary of CI$200 every two weeks in 1978.

Anyway, two months after my brother started working with Cayman Energy, I got a job as well with Cayman Energy and went out on the tankers for the ship-to-ship transfer. My brother was an experienced sea captain prior to his employment. He started as a seaman at age 16 and he was a sea captain at the age of 19.

When I started working, I was an assistant to the mooring masters. A mooring master is the person that is experienced with taking command of the tanker from the captain and giving instructions as to the course and speed to approach another ship, and bring it alongside and keep it alongside parallel, until the ropes are connected and the ships are tied together to commence the ship-to-ship transfer of crude oil.

The first person that started out was Captain Harold Banks, which was the manager of Cayman Energy in Cayman Brac. He was the first mooring master, docking master for the tankers. Captain Harold Banks was the man that taught my brother how to dock the tankers. Also, he taught a total of seven other Caymanian men how to dock the tankers. I worked with all of them in the tankers.

Ship-to-ship transfer was a booming business in Cayman Brac from 1977 through about 1986. It was the best thing that happened to Cayman Brac since National Bulk Carriers. Cayman Energy had a staff of 93 persons at the peak of its operations in Cayman Brac and

I was among one of those 93 persons that worked with Cayman Energy.

Raymond Scott contacts a ship at sea from his home on Cayman Brac. – Photo: Ken Silva

A distress call in the night

When I was age 15, I had started communicating with ships [via radio].

There were no computers, no cellphones.

In 1978, I was employed on a salary of $25 a month to Lloyd’s of London to be their agent in calling up ships and finding out their names, their position, where they’re coming from, where they’re going, what they’re carrying.

I worked for 32 years as an agent or shipping traffic reporter for Cayman Brac, or for the Cayman Islands, and after 32 years, I only reached to a sum of $290, which was some of the lowest pay that anyone could have ever been paid for that type of work, but that was my salary.

In doing that [work], people here in the Cayman Islands started to contact me about when someone goes missing at sea. Their family members would be coming from Key West or Miami or coming from Honduras or from Jamaica and they could be overdue. Being as I was the man of the radio and communicating with the ships, I became like the maritime safety authority for the Cayman Islands.

I have been involved in several hundred rescue operations. I have saved many lives at sea in the 40 years that I’ve been doing it.

I’ve approached government on many occasions, for such an important job that I am carrying out, for them to put me on a salary and appoint me into a position as a search-and-rescue coordinator. But no one takes it as anything serious as to the importance of my duties in being the saviour of life at sea for so many people. All hours the night, I’ve been called out of bed, every hour and every half an hour. I’ve been called out of my bed to assist people in distress at sea by the marine department, by 911 communication, by family members, by friends of people, by foreign ships giving out a Mayday or SOS call.

My responsibilities have been quite overwhelming for me.

It has aged and educated me with a vast knowledge of the entire world, about its ports, what each port imports and exports from place to place.

And I’ve spoken with just about every nationality in the world on ships passing the Cayman Islands, coming from every country in the world – to and from the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, and all those other places.

Rescue of the Angelique

A 62-year-old captain and his 61-year-old wife were coming from Cayo Largo, Cuba, to Little Cayman and their boat [the Angelique] started sinking. I think it was a 39- or 41-foot sailboat. It started sinking at about 12:24 in the afternoon, and I heard the SOS call and I dispatched the Cayman Brac fire service rescue launch to go up there and then contacted a ship.

The ship went to the scene and launched their lifeboat and took the captain and his wife on board, and then asked me what to do after that. I said, take the yacht in tow and tow it to Cayman Brac.

They were towing the yacht to Cayman Brac while it was sinking, but at 5 o’clock that evening, it started to go completely under. And then the captain on the ship called me and asked what to do if the boat is sinking.

I said, “Well, you are the captain. Decide what to do.”

Anyway, he decided to cut the rope and let the sailing boat sink to the bottom. She’s on the bottom [of the sea] about 15 miles north of Little Cayman right now.

The captain and his wife went back to Holland, bought another boat, and started an around-the-world cruise.

Ship ablaze

I saved the lives of 19 Hondurans when their radar had caught fire 80 miles southwest of Grand Cayman. It caught fire in the engine room and was burning and another ship got their SOS call at 2 o’clock in the morning and broadcast “SHIP ABLAZE, SHIP ABLAZE”.

I heard it. The call came through. I was asleep and it awakened me. I jumped up from the bed and got on the radio as quickly as possible, and I said, “Give me your position. Give me your position.” Then I contact Lloyd’s of London, that I was working with then, and they called the US Coast Guard and sent a Coast Guard ship that was around western Cuba.

They found 19 Honduran men hanging onto a partly sunken lifeboat. So, if I wasn’t doing what I was doing, those 19 Hondurans would have went into eternity. They would have all drowned out there that night.

So, anyone that was on the motor vessel Topaz, please, let me know if anyone knows of any seaman who were rescued from the sinking, failing lifeboat from the motor vessel Topaz, which sank off of Grand Cayman.

I would like to know or meet any of those 19 people. I would be delighted to hear from any one of them.

I don’t remember which year, but it seems like about 15 years ago.

Honouring the lost

Whenever a seaman passes away, or his wife or a family member, I will contact the captain of an approaching ship that is going to pass the area and make a request that, I would like you to pass by the island and give a five- or 10-horn blast salute to honour them, like Captain Charles Kirkconnell, for example, when he passed away, and many other people from the Cayman Islands.

There are hundreds of people that I have done it so far for.