Archive for September 5th, 2014

Anchor reef damage massive

| 05/09/2014 | 29 Comments

(CNS): The coral reef hit by a Carnival cruise ship anchor last month is far worse than feared with over 11,000 square feet of reef mashed up as a result and no one is taking responsibility.  The department of the environment divers took to the oceans on Tuesday to get a closer look and found the area of impact was considerably larger than was first suspected. Tim Austin the DoE’s expert explained that a lot of the ships chain was sitting on the reef for a few hours causing a large area of impact. Then when the ship was relocated the chain retrieval process caused even more damage. Looking at what, if any, remedial work can be done to help the mashed reef recover the DoE has also expressed its concerns about proper measures to stop this happening again.

“Our early estimate based on Tuesday’s reconnaissance dive and video analysis of data collected on that dive puts the total impact footprint at about 1,100 square meters (11,840 sq. ft.),” Austin said. “Within that footprint approximately 500 square meters (5,380 sq. ft.) is severely impacted with near complete destruction. The remaining 600 square meters (6,458 sq. ft.) has varying degrees of impact from severe to moderate.”

The DoE’s experts are also hoping that there is potential for low key remedial efforts at the site to provide the best possible chance of recovery such as removing rubble which could cause further damage and right overturned coral heads which are still alive, placing them on stable substrate instead of a rubble field.

The damage is of major concern in itself but this is not the first time that healthy reef has taken a blow from a cruise ship anchor and the DoE is also keen to see preventative action taken.  “We are currently looking at the options available to us and are in discussion with our Ministry,” Austin added. “We want to ensure that proper measures are put in place so this doesn’t happen again.”

However, when it comes to who is responsible for this damage the lines appear blurred and it does not look as though anyone will be held accountable. The port authority has denied any responsibility and pointed to the shipping agents and the pilots who guide in the ships which the authority said are contracted directly by the cruise lines.

“The Port Authority assigns the anchorages to the cruise ships that call here,” Joseph Woods, who deals with the port’s cruise operations said. “There are four anchorages which are located and marked with lighted buoys within the defined Port Anchorage Area as per the Port Regulations.  The cruise lines engage pilots through their agent to guide their ships to the anchorages.  The pilots are not employees of the Port Authority and are not contracted by the Port Authority.”

In this case it was a Bodden Shipping port pilots who directed the ship but the Carnival Captain still had the ultimate authority for his ship and can overrule the Port Pilot and choose not to anchor if he is concerned. On the day in question it seems that while the pilot had made a concerted effort to get the ship to drop its anchor in sand it missed the intended drop site by around fifty feet. But had the anchor landed in sand the location would still have seen the chain over the reef revealing the urgent need for an improved and consistent policy regarding placing ships outside the designated anchorages.

Bodden Shipping have not responded to CNS questions regarding the incident and Carnival have said that they are in discussions about it with the shipping agent.

“Carnival Cruise Lines places extraordinary importance on preserving the pristine and sensitive marine environment in the Cayman Islands and everywhere we operate,” a spokesperson for the cruise line said in an emailed response to questions.  “We take every precaution to ensure that our ships do not cause damage to any marine habitat and all environmental-related rules and regulations are followed.  As such, when anchoring in Grand Cayman we employ the services of a local harbour pilot to provide our captains with very specific instructions on where to drop the anchor.”

The spokesperson said that on the day in question (27 August) when the ship anchored in the morning and then moved in the afternoon, the ship was under the direction of a local pilot as well as the Port Authority. 

“We are closely examining this very important matter,” the cruise line stated. ”As part of that process, we have discussed the matter with the company that supplies local pilots for us in Grand Cayman as well as shared information with the other captains in our fleet with the objective of ensuring such an incident is not repeated in the future.”

The incident which had been picked up in the first instance by divers from Don Fosters dive operation and then reported to the port and DoE caused a considerable degree of public concern about the continuing threat to the local marine environment. 

See related story on CNS

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First Caymanian doctor hired at Health City

| 05/09/2014 | 0 Comments

Cayman News Service(CNS Business): A former head girl at John Gray High School is the first Caymanian physician to work at Health City Cayman Islands (HCCI). The private hospital which, it is hoped, will launch medical tourism as the third leg of the Cayman economy, opened its doors in February this year and Dr Irka Lashany Ebanks from West Bay started work there 1 September, after finishing her internship in Jamaica last June. Having been away for five years taking her medical degree at the University of the West Indies, Dr Ebanks said she missed home and wanted to come back for a while. “I’m not 100% sure what I want to specialize in and wanted to get my feet wet in Cayman and see what area called me, see what I liked the most,” she explained. Read more on CNS Business

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Private plane crashes off coast of Jamaica

| 05/09/2014 | 1 Comment

(CNS): A light aircraft bound for Florida has crashed some 14 miles of the coast of Jamaica after the pilot stopped responding to air-traffic control, Friday. US and Jamaican authorities have confirmed that the unresponsive plane carrying two passengers from New York state came down around 2:15 this afternoon north-east of Port Antonio. Both Jamaican and US Coast Guard planes and ships are on their way to the crash site of the Socata TBM-700, which took off from Rochester at 08:26 but it stopped responding to us air traffic control around 10am. The US scrambled two fighter jets to investigate but it is not clear what had happened to the plane.

Norad said it was not possible for the jet fighter pilots to see inside the single propeller plane before it crashed as the windows were frosted or fogged over. A tweet from the US military organisation suggested the pilot or pilots could be unresponsive due to "possible hypoxia" a lack of oxygen in the Cabin which may mean the pilots and passengers had all lost consciousness. The plane was flying at an altitude of 25,000 feet southbound over the Caribbean Sea, approaching the north east point of Jamaica, when it went off radar.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said it had also co-operated with Cuban air traffic authorities in monitoring the plane, despite the diplomatic impasse between the nations for more than fifty years. The plane had travelled some 1,700 miles across Cuba’s air space before it crashed.

The plane is registered to company owned by Larry Glazer a real estate developer from Rochester who is understood to have been one of the passengers along with his wife Rachel who were understood to be planning to spend the weekend in Naples where they have real estate interests.

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$10m taken from pension plans to fund homes

| 05/09/2014 | 39 Comments

(CNS): More than CI$10 million has been withdrawn from private sector pension schemes in Cayman by local people to use to put a roof over their heads. So far more than 500 Caymanians have been forced to raid their future retirement income so that they can afford to buy or build a home. The pensions law was changed in 2011 following a private members bill brought by former UDP back-bench MLAs Ellio Solomon and Dwayne Seymour. As a result, locals can now take as much as $35,000 from their pensions before they retire to buy land, build a house, make a down payment on one, or pay off a mortgage.

The National Pensions Office, which oversees the withdrawals, recently published the details of the cash that has been taken from the funds in-line with the strict criteria laid down by the law.

It revealed that between the end of 2011 when the scheme began and 30 June this year 523 people have applied to take money while four changed their minds, and 506 applications had been approved. The majority of applications, almost 300, were for contributions to a down-payment or deposit to buy a home, equating to more than CI$5.7 million taken from funds.

Over a hundred applicants wanted to pay off mortgages to the tune of more than $2.8 million, while more than 60 applicants used $1,1 million to contribute towards building a house. The remaining 40 applicants withdrew $620,000 to buy land.

Only Caymanians who do not currently own a property can take the cash from their pension if they have the funds already there and they are obligated to pay the money back into the pension if the home it relates to is sold before they retire.

People who opt to take the cash are also required to increase the contribution they make to their pension following the withdrawal by 1% of their earnings. This means the minimum contribution they must make to their compulsory pension plan between themselves and their employers increases after they take the cash from 10% of their wages to 11% for ten years or until the amount taken out is covered until they retire.

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Court rules cops’ warrant unlawful in drug bust

| 05/09/2014 | 0 Comments

(CNS): Despite promises by the RCIPS management to tighten up search warrant procedures and other technical issues during the process of investigations another search warrant has been declared unlawful by the courts. However, an application by the suspects attorney’s to have the entire case thrown out as a result of what the defense believe was such a catalogue of errors and procedurals problems by police and prosecutors the case will still go to trial. Although a magistrate found some significant issues with the case she declined to stay it as she said the trial process was equipped to deal with the bulk of the complaints filed by the lawyers.

Andre Woodman is charged with possession of cocaine with intent to supply after drugs and related paraphernalia were allegedly seized from his home during a search, conducted under a warrant obtained from a justice of the peace using the criminal procedure code last November.

The officer should have undertaken the search under the misuse of drugs law as the warrant related to what the cops believed would be a drug bust.

Having obtained the wrong warrant, the police proceeded to execute it before daylight in breach of the conditions. Far more than a technical slip as claimed by the crown the magistrate found the warrant was unlawful. Magistrate Philippa McFarlane-Ebanks pointed out that the police could easily have complied with the law by using the misuse of drugs act. Despite declaring the warrant unlawful however, she did not stay the case saying all of the issues could be dealt with before a trail judge.

The defence lawyers in the case also complained in their application to have it thrown out of woeful inadequacies relating to the disclosure of critical information.

The magistrate agreed that there had been serious failures on the prosecutions part to disclose information that should have been given to the defence. She went as far as saying the police appeared to have hampered the crown in their own case given the failure to hand over the necessary material to the prosecuting attorney.

Against a background of continuous arguments between defence and prosecutors in general about the abuse of the disclosure process the magistrate urged the public prosecutor to set a policy of writing to defence attorneys regarding disclosure requests.

“Crown counsel should in my view get into the habit of advising the defence in writing about the status of requests,” she said, adding that it should be clear to the lawyers whether or not the material will be disclosed and if not why not. She pointed out that the crown should be clear that it has given proper consideration to requests and are “continuing to properly discharge their duty to provide material which is subject to common law disclosure…”

Despite what she described as the frank admissions by the crown about the failure to disclose material which ought to have been handed over, the magistrate said that there was still time and did not see the failures as prejudicial to the trial. The court also found that Greg Walcolm, the crown counsel who now has conduct of the case, was making every effort to address the complaints.

Along with the disclosure and warrant problems that relate to this investigation, the lead officer in the case, DC Winston Harrison, also has a pending contempt of court allegation against him after he failed to turn up to a trial hearing date in this case in July. That issue was adjourned to be heard in November when the case comes back before the court in connection with the disclosure problems ahead of the trial.

Woodman, who had been remanded in custody since his arrest, was eventually granted bail in July after five failed applications not least because of the disclosure issues preventing the defence from making its proper case.

Faced with what he believes is a catalogue of errors associated with this case and which he believes have caused serious prejudice to his client, the instructing attorney, Peter Polack has also filed a formal complaint with the Attorney General.

Polack told CNS that he had still not received any response from the government’s top lawyer to his letter sent back in July. “This is unsurprising as courtesy, but not salary, is in such short supply from the leaders of some government departments,” he added.

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Cayman cruise arrivals up 80% in July

| 05/09/2014 | 0 Comments

Cayman News Service(CNS Business): While stay-over tourism figures showed healthy growth for July 2014, cruise ship arrivals for the month rose by 79.63% over the figure for July 2013, with more than 120,000 passengers, up from almost 67,000 last year, according to the last statistics from the Department of Tourism (DoT). There has been a steady rise in cruise arrivals over 2013, with the exception of January, but this July was the busiest since 2004, when around 123,000 people arrived by cruise ship, turning around the downward trend since 2006. Cruise passengers for the first half of the year, January through June, for the Cayman Islands were up 8.6%. (Photo by DennieWarren Jr) Read more on CNS Business

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MLAs seek to ensure OMOV

| 05/09/2014 | 28 Comments

(CNS): Cautiously welcoming the premier’s announcement on the implementation of 'one man, one vote' in single member constituencies, the two independent members are calling for some changes to the proposed motion to make certain that the long-awaited electoral reform happens in time for the 2017 general election. Arden McLean, the member for East End, said he would withdraw his private member’s motion on the issue if the government changed its motion to include a deadline and confirm the number of constituencies at 18, removing the potential for either an increase to 19 or a reduction to 17 constituencies with the Sister Islands as a multi-member district.

Although the premier committed during a press briefing on Wednesday to having the entire process completed before June of next year and that Cayman Brac and Little Cayman will have two seats in the LA, McLean told the press Thursday that when it comes to politics he doesn’t trust his former party colleague, Alden McLaughlin, and wanted to see these commitments in black and white in the government motion.

His sentiments were echoed by Ezzard Miller, the representative for North Side, who had backed McLean’s OMOV motion and who has also advocated heavily for the voting change.

“We’ve heard these promises before,” Miller pointed out.

McLean said that he and the government were now very close and it was clear that they could work together on the issue, but given the past history, it was important that it was clear and that there was no room for doubt on what the plan was and that it would happen in time for the next general election. Confident that both his and Miller’s constituencies would be protected, even though they and the Sister Islands two constituencies would be smaller than the other fourteen, McLean pointed to the constitution that directs the Boundary Commission to consider the historical district boundaries of constituencies.

Congratulating McLaughlin on his decision, he added, “We are ready to work with the government now. I am not hear to embarrass the government but the motion is not definitive enough and we are concerned about the timeline being fixed and the potential for an increase in seats.”

McLean said that by leaving the number of constituencies open to interpretation there was a danger that the seats could increase. That would not only increase costs in government at a time when it can ill afford it but also, if government intended that to be an extra minister, it would further undermine the power-balance in parliament between the Cabinet and the legislative members.

Pleased that the premier had acknowledged their agitation and the public desire for the change, whatever the reason for the premier’s change of heart, the independent members said they could get fully behind the government on the issue now, provided the “wiggle room” was removed and the “belt and braces” added. The men said that these small amendments to the motion would guarantee that Cayman would finally move to an equitable and modern voting system.

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Police round up GT booze burglar

| 05/09/2014 | 5 Comments

(CNS): As the number of break-ins and burglaries around George Town continues to grow with police dealing with reports on a daily basis, officers netted one culprit at around midnight, Wednesday after another report of a break-in at Paradise Bar and Grill on the waterfront, South Church Street. One of many local tourist related businesses suffering from the surge in property crime the police said the suspect gained entry using a rock to smash the glass door. When the police arrived a 53-year-old man was arrested at the scene and a quantity of alcohol recovered.The man is currently in custody at George Town Police Station and has since been charged. He was due to appear in court Friday.

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High risk inmate stabbed

| 05/09/2014 | 18 Comments

(CNS): Two category ‘A’ prisoners, inmates described by the prison system as high risk, were involved in what appears to be a jail house fight on Tuesday night in which one of the prisoners was rushed to hospital. Although the prison has not said how the incident happened, the director has confirmed that the altercation occurred in the high risk unit but was not gang related. The authorities have not detailed the weapon used in the fight but the injured prisoner was said to be seriously wounded and the matter is now under investigation by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service. Officers had provided on site first aid until the injured prisoner was taken to hospital under high security. 

After he received treatment he was returned to HMP Northward and Prison Director Neil Lavis confirmed that he is now doing well.

Although prisons around the world are often violent places, HMP Northward does not have a reputation for excessive violence, and while incidents occur from time to time, they are less frequent than in many other jail houses. However, the inmate is understood to have been stabbed, which means that the prison will need to answer questions over how a high risk inmate was able to either procure or make some kind of weapon, especially in the unit where there are inmates from rival gangs.

The director stated that this incident was not gang related, though the police have recently indicated that they are aware through their intelligence that the gang tensions in West Bay have escalated recently. With the prison's ongoing battle with contraband, including smart phones, gang members are still able to communicate, despite their incarceration.

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