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Enforce new sea laws

Over 100 turned out to pay their respects to the lost five at sea. Credit: Paul Kennedy

The need to improve safety regulations when people go out to sea in vessels must be introduced as soon as possible. Whether it’s a kayak or a yacht, laws need to be passed to ensure people are not just protected from the elements but also from themselves.

Because the Cayman Islands is often referred to as “paradise,” too many people taking to the seas have a laissez faire attitude when going out on the water. The Cayman Reporter’s front page story on Wednesday, Mar. 8 highlighted the lack of resources and how stretched Her Majesty’s Coastguard is and today’s front page story reiterates the urgent need for safety laws to be passed.

The review of the Coastguard situation emphasised how dire the resources are of search and rescue operations in Cayman as well as the lack of personnel, equipment and training essential to mount a quick and successful operation.

Apparently, when a boat went missing at sea a year ago the three men and two boys allegedly had little chance of being rescued because many felt the police made too slow a response. The new report, ordered by the Governor’s Office after the five were never found, highlights how dedicated the first responders were but unfortunately they did not have the resources nor training necessary to mount search and rescue efforts at sea. Under those circumstances, the chances of finding the missing five was slim.

After the independent reviewers met with police, fire, port and other people they wrote that there was a commendable willingness to improve the service provision but the “number of challenges requiring a collaborative effort within the local search and rescue community to overcome.”

The reviewers finding that there are no “standard operating procedures, policies and protocols” for search and rescue operations is alarming.

Although the report found that the Joint Marine Unit and the police Air Operations Unit are working on re-establishing the procedures, the primary documents were lost to a computer issue. It does not say when the policies and procedures were lost nor when all the services will have a fully coordinated and more efficient response. This is a deplorable situation. People’s lives are at risk.

Creating a formal volunteer diver network for search operations would be ideal, says the report and it also suggests the Fire Service should have a more formal role, possibly by using wave runners to respond to inshore emergencies.

It doesn’t help that the Joint Marine Unit vessels are in a state of disrepair or out of service. The fact that only two of the Marine Unit’s boats are in working order and both long-range vessels are out of commission does not bode well for future rescue operations.

Budget cuts means that maintenance units to ensure the vessels are sea worthy are just not there.

And so the report goes on; a depressing overview of every aspect of the rescue service.

Sympathy goes to the loved ones of the five lost a year ago and all the others involved in tragedies at seas.

The warning by the brother of one of the boaters calling for tighter regulations, to ensure others don’t suffer the pain he has faced, should be heeded. That story in this issue reinforces the need for not just raising the standards of rescue services but also the need for boat goers to take more responsibility for themselves.

Kerry Whittaker advocates all crafts on Cayman waters should meet special criteria that include basic equipment.

Tighter regulations are not a money-making scheme, but simply an initiative to save lives, he says.

This paper backs Mr. Whittaker and the other bereaved people who want crafts that are in Cayman waters to have a local registration number and an insistence that the craft must meet strict criteria. The basics are a radio, life vests for all on board, flare guns for day and night, pocket mirrors for reflection, marine whistle and complete charts of the Cayman Islands waters.

For seafarers, all these procedures are absolutely vital and reasonably affordable. After all, how much can you put on the price of a life?

The government needs to find the necessary budget for such measures. Although initially difficult to enforce and it will be slow to change the culture of many who are experienced on the seas, when introduced and properly enforced, tragedies like the one of a year ago will hopefully be a thing of the past.

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