Superyacht accused of damaging coral reef in Cayman Islands

26 March 2015By Laura Nineham

The Department of Environment in the Cayman Islands has claimed a superyacht damaged a coral reef on the Grand Cayman’s west side and is investigating further.

There had been three luxury yachts anchored in the area before the damage was discovered last week (16 March).

“The extent of the damage indicates there was substantial force involved which would not have been possible by smaller vessels,” Scott Slaybaugh from the Department of Environment told Boat International.

“The Cayman Islands offer free permanent moorings for visiting yachts up to 100 ton – and all yachts visiting during that time under that size were tied to the moorings. We also offer 365 free public moorings around our three islands for diving and recreational fishing boats under 20 meters that prevent the necessity of anchoring. Therefore, it has become unusual for a vessel to anchor in this marine protected area which reduces the possibility of another vessel causing the damage.”

To support claims this was caused by a superyacht, the Department of Environment has released two photos of reef damage: one shows a previous incident with minor damage caused by a small boat, the other shows the extent of the recent damage. As you can see below, the white bits of the reef show coral that was living but has been crushed by anchor chains.

The picture above shows minor damage caused by a small boat; the one below shows the damage caused this month by a superyacht, which is much more extensive:

Marine biologists are still trying to quantify the extent of the damage but it is described as “significant and located in an economically important diving area”.

At the moment the Department of Environment does not have conclusive evidence to prosecute anyone for the damage.

“It is possible that members of the public may come forward with witness reports or photographs,” Mr Slaybaugh added. “The location was popular for diving so it may be feasible that someone filmed the anchor chain in the coral and can identify the vessel.”

The case will be kept open incase further evidence emerges.

Past problems

There was outrage in 2013 when serious damage was caused after a cruise ship dropped anchor on a reef off George Town.  Carnival Cruise Line made a $100,000 donation to support the restoration of the section of coral. However, the company maintained it was mistakenly directed to anchor at the site by the Port Authority’s licensed pilot.

Mr Slaybaugh said: “We take coral damage seriously; hence the expense of installing and maintaining the free mooring programme.

“There have been a few incidents of anchor damage in the past decade that were due to negligence and the court has handed out fines as high as $175,000. It is not our desire to prosecute offenders, but rather to proactively prevent damage.”

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