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Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Tragedy

The weekend brought a triple dose of tragedy to the islands, beginning with the first dive fatality of the year.

"Fears were growing Monday for a missing scuba diver after his tank, dive vest and an article of clothing were found near the site where he was last seen Sunday morning. 
Volunteer divers joined a police air and sea search Monday for David Byles, 57, from North Carolina, who disappeared after surfacing following a dive at around 10:20 a.m. Sunday. 
He had not been found by Monday afternoon, though investigators said his tank, buoyancy control device and some clothing had been recovered close to Barracuda Reef, where Mr. Byles had been diving with local operator Sunset Divers."

"Staff at the dive center said Mr. Byles had surfaced around 100 yards from the boat, Leopard Ray, along with the rest of his group, including his wife, following the dive. He had not shown any signs of distress and it was not until his group reached the boat that they noticed he was no longer with them, said general manager Keith Sahm."
 
"Divers searched the area but could see no sign of Mr. Byles. Police were called and the helicopter was launched to aid Sunday’s search."

Link: HERE

Personally speaking, conditions were pretty crap for diving on Sunday and lots of us erred on the side of caution by not jumping in. I've dived some of the deepest, darkest muddiest holes in the world in all sorts of conditions and temperatures, but common sense should prevail when diving especially if you're responsible for other divers. I'm surprised that Sunset House elected to take divers out in it, especially if those divers were of the "only dive once a year whilst on holiday" variety. Without knowing if there were any contributing medical conditions, equipment failure or just he just plain forgot the basics of dump the weight and inflate BCD a the surface, etc., I doubt that we'll ever know the full story of what actually happened.

It's sad when these things happen as it shines an unwanted spotlight on the sport, painting it in a negative light in some peoples minds (comments have already been made numerous times over the course of yesterday by non-divers coming into the dive store with their diving partners).

Every opportunity should be made to ensure the health, safety and well being of people under your supervision and lessening the impact of any factors which may cause stress, harm, injury or death to them.

The HSE may not have been an overly popular regulator back in the UK but if you followed all their recommendations, guidelines and legislation along with your training organisation's guidelines and a good dollop of common sense, then you can sleep easy knowing you did everything by the book. Unfortunately, the Cayman Islands don't have anything like the HSE and common sense is alarmingly lacking, both in some divers and some dive operators. Until something changes here, I fear that this unfortunate incident won't be the last this year.

You can't apportion blame at this time without knowing the all the facts all you can do is make sure that you dive safe and sensible and please don't be another statistic.


On to tragedy number two with the death, or indeed call it murder, of one of the islands beloved stingrays as one of the many, many boats at the Stingray Sandbar decided to engage its prop, killing the stingray in the process.

“It is a shallow area and there are a lot of boats around,” said Jessica Harvey of the DOE.
“And of course on days when its a little bit rough, its very difficult to keep a boat in certain areas, and so just to take time and have someone maybe survey when you’re backing up.”
The DOE also told Cayman 27 due to a lack of staff at the moment, coupled with vacations and people on medical leave, they’ve not been policing the attraction as much as in the past."

“I can think of a lot of scenarios where a boat may have shifted position and the boat operator may have had to engage the drive in order to protect the boat or tourists that were visiting there and unfortunately a ray was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Scott Slaybaugh of the DOE."

“We like to keep things under control there but I believe this accident would have happened whether or not we had staff there or not.”

Link: HERE


I would just like to call complete and utter hogwash on the last sentence of that statement because if DOE staff had been present and if they and the government actually cared so much about the well being of the stingrays then they could easily limit the number of boats visiting at any one time.

The amount of boat traffic, not to mention hoards of jet skiers at the sandbar beggars belief and it's only time before another stingray is killed or a tourist for that matter. It's all about the tourist dollar and be damned with health, safety and most importantly the survival of the stingrays, whose numbers are dwindling each year. We certainly don't need inbred, moronic boat captains killing them. The best way to get the maximum enjoyment out of Stingray City or the Sandbar is to charter a private boat which costs a little more, but is well worth it to avoid hideous overcrowding and arrange to go after 3pm on weekdays or go at weekends when there's significantly less tourists and boats. You'll thank me for it later.


Which leads us on to tragedy number three. Or potential tragedy as this is just a time bomb waiting to happen with it making front page news yesterday.

Take a look at these pictures and tell me if you can see whats wrong.



Did you spot the problem? It's called "sheer greed of the inept, belligerent and arrogant boat captains". Stick as many tourists on a boat as humanly possible and pray that an accident doesn't happen. How can anyone possible consider this fun in any way possible jammed in like sardines next to other sweaty human beings? And to cap it all the DOE, being as ineffectual as ever (much like any government related on this island) have failed to have one of their officers stationed at the Sandbar to ensure compliance.

"Concerns have been raised over crowded conditions at Stingray City Sandbar, including dangerously overloaded boats, and reckless behavior from some tour guides. A stingray was killed by a boat propeller earlier this month, while several tour operators have complained their boats have been bumped or damaged by careless boat captains.

"Other tour leaders are accused of lifting stingrays out of the water and rubbing them on people’s backs in the jostle for tourist dollars at the busy attraction." 

"Photographs supplied to the Caymanian Compass show boats crammed from bow to stern, with dozens of tourists huddled on deck. The Department of Environment used to station an officer at the site but he has not been seen for the past four months, according to operators. They say standards have worsened considerably in his absence." 

"Guy Harvey, who has been at the sandbar this month collecting data, said he was concerned about the impact on the animals, as well as the tourist experience at one of the world’s most famous wildlife interaction zones.  He was present when a stingray, mortally injured with more than a dozen propeller slashes, was discovered at the sandbar and his research team conducted an autopsy before disposing of the body.

"He said, “Even before this incident happened, several different tour operators told me that it is now a “free for all” at the sandbar without the enforcement officer there.  
“Bad boat handling, large numbers of people crowded into a small space, tour operators reviving the old tricks of rubbing rays on swimmers’ backs covered in sunblock and lifting them out of the water."

Link: HERE

Just complete and utter ignorance and lunacy. Thanks to bad individuals who are spoiling it for everyone else with the short term "make a quick buck and screw everyone else, I'm alright Jack" attitude, it won't be long until someone gets injured or killed, and/or the decreasing number of stingrays will cease to be an attraction with the Caymans losing their biggest cash cow forever.

Greed, ignorance and stupidity at it's best. Welcome to the Cayman Islands!!