Panton reveals challenges of yacht reef damage

| 03/06/2016 | 8 Comments
Cayman News Service

Diver work to save damaged coral

(CNS): Government has plans to install a number of moorings that can accommodate super-yachts to help reduce reef damage by anchor chains, Environment Minister Wayne Panton has told the Legislative Assembly. He said that since coming to office, there have been five cases of vessels damaging coral with anchor chains but it has proved challenging to fine the people involved, though some cash has changed hands to cover the damage in some cases. While not intentional, a combination of recklessness, incompetence and negligence had led to boats or anchor chains ending up on reefs, reflecting an unfortunate reality and the need for more secure and appropriate moorings to handle larger boats.

Answering a parliamentary question submitted by the member for North Side, Ezzard Miller, about why owners of boats damaging coral were not being prosecuted, Panton said all of the incidents were investigated but he outlined some of the difficulties in the cases.

He said the first incident his ministry had to deal with was the damage caused by the cruise ship Carnival Magic in August 2014. This happened under the old marine law, which required prosecutors to show intent, making it almost impossible to secure a conviction.

The cruise ship was outside a designated Port Authority anchorage, he explained. The investigation revealed that the ship asked for an alternative spot on arrival because of the weather and the Port Authority Pilot from Bodden Shipping had attempted to anchor the ship in a sand patch, An error led to some 16,000 square feet of coral damage but the law at the time and the involvement of the local pilot complicated matters.

Government elected to enter into talks with Carnival and sought voluntary compensation instead of trying to prosecute, and the cruise line paid $100,000, which was used for the significant and coordinated volunteer restoration efforts.

In the next incident, damage was caused by an unknown vessel to the Thirteen Trees dive site off Seven Mile Beach in March 2015. Panton explained that with no witnesses or evidence of any kind except the damage, the Department of Environment did their best to reattach the live corals and repair the damage.

The third incident, involving a 60ft sports fishing vessel that was not registered in Cayman, happened when the public mooring broke and the boat settled on a shallow reef in Cayman Brac in May 2015. In that case the investigation found that about 86 square metres of coral was impacted and the insurance company settled out of court, leading to over $12,000 being paid into the Environmental Protection Fund.

In December last year, the cruise ship Zenith, own by Pullmantur, was anchored in a less used but legitimate port anchorage zone that covers an area where there is some coral reef and there was therefore no way to prosecute.

The most recent damage was caused by the 300ft super-yacht MV Tatoosh, which is owned by billionaire Paul Allen, which damaged 14,000sqft of reef in the Seven Mile Beach marine park in January this year. Since that case was still live and discussions were ongoing, Panton said he could not say any more.

The minister said these incidents illustrated the need for moorings with sufficient capacity for the larger vessels. While there were plenty of moorings for smaller boats, Cayman does not have enough for the larger luxury yachts, he noted.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (8)

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  1. Capt. Mud says:

    Just build a superyacht harbour in the Red Bay end of South Sound.

    It is the only viable location.

  2. Anonymous says:

    As somebody who has spent time working in the yachting industry i can drop my 2 cents on this. We need permanent moorings desperately. When a captain is given the coordinates to drop anchor in that sandy west bay bight he does not understand fully the damage that can be done. I travelled many countries by yacht and only recall one anchorage as tight as cayman and that was in belize. We realised the situation there and decided it was better to avoid anchoring. Not long after the last incident we had a nor wester and i noticed another private yacht anchored on the edge of the wall on the south side. Instead of being close to spotts area this yacht was in front of south shore apartment complex. I had never seen any ships drop anchor that far west from the spotts anchorage. I was told this area is still a designated south side anchorage. I would guess that reef has been decimated also. Permanent moorings on both sides of the island is the only sensible solution and the sooner the better

  3. Anonymous says:

    Blah blah blah, ‘ongoing difficulties’ blah blah blah ‘loopholes’ blah blah blah = the government has achieved the total sum of nothing by doing nothing.

  4. Anonymous says:

    We’ve been talking about these permanent moorings for decades. What have we been waiting for?

    • Anonymous says:

      If you have been here for decades then you should have figured out by now that very little gets done here. Ever. Not until Caymanians figure out why will it ever begin to change.

  5. Anonymous says:

    usual wonderland stuff….caymanians are never held accountable or take responisbility for anything…

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