November 23, 2020

ACTION NEEDED NOW: Meeting planned to put stop all the senseless deaths

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Most locals know the risks, says land owner

Hon. Mark Scotland

At a top-level meeting tomorrow, government officials will seek to discourage divers from cliff jumping near Pedro Castle, hoping to avoid further tragedies after last weeks two drownings.

Included in the Friday gathering at the Crighton Building offices of the Tourism Attraction Board (TAB), which owns Pedro Castle, will be Marine Unit Inspector Clive Smith; Chief Inspector Robert Scotland, in charge of the Bodden Town Police Station: Port Authority Security Officer Joseph Woods; TAB CEO Gilbert Connolly; Minister for Health, Youth and Sports Mark Scotland, also Bodden Town MLA:, and a collection of coastal landowners adjacent to the national historical site.

More than a dozen individuals, some as far away as New Jersey,  own sections of the coastline between the easternmost Bill Eden Point, on Old Jones Bay, and Great Pedro Point at the western end of the St James area. From that point to Pedro Castle alone is 2,700 feet.

Cliff jumpers have been spotted on at least three points along the coast, compounding the difficulties of regulation, but at least two owners said they would “have no problem” should government want to signpost their land.

“My piece of land is east of Pedro Castle,” said Barry Bodden, owner of Island Paving, “and I would not have a problem if the government wanted to put up signs.

The cliffs at Pedro St James

“I have seen people jumping, but I know it wasn’t on our piece of land. I was out fishing around there one day and said ‘holy cow, what’s going on?’ I grew up in that area and I wondered how you get back out of the water. There was a ledge they climbed on. They had a rope or something they used to come out and get back on top.”

He was unsure about the effectiveness of warning signs, however.

“If the government wants to put signs on top, it might stop tourists, but most of the locals are likely to know the risks,” Mr Bodden said. “It’s just the sort of thing that, sooner or later, you’re going to get in trouble.”

The TAB’s Mr Connolly said he would “absolutely not have a problem with signposts” on the Pedro Castle property, which encompasses the coastline.

“The meeting with TAB and the police and others this week is to see what can be done, and in the end there may be more than one meeting,” he said.

The Port Authority’s Mr Woods acknowledged the unit had little jurisdiction in the Pedro Castle area, but would offer its experience and advice.

“We mostly look after cargo and ships in the harbour area, and do channel markers and safety equipment, but because we are a small country and we are accustomed to working inter-agency, we’ll attend to hear the discussions and offer anything we can. We do a lot of work with the Marine Authority, the police and the Department of the Environment,” Mr Woods said.

Inspector Davis told iNews Cayman that area landowners were largely immune from potential lawsuits in the recent drowning deaths – Justin Henry, 16, on 26 December, and Adam Rankine, 21, on 1 January – and that, if anything, the boys had been guilty of trespassing.

“They would be liable because they were on private property,” he said, while written warnings would indemnify landowners against future accidents.

“If the owners have ‘No Trespassing’ signs, then we could prosecute swimmers if we choose to do so,” he said.

Friday’s meeting, however, originally scheduled for this morning,  was likely to yield only modest results immediately.

“At this stage, basically, we can only erect ‘No Trespassing’ and ‘No Swimming’ signs,” he said. “Putting up fences is up to the owners.”

Inspector Smith’s remarks echoed similar statements by Mr Scotland, who told iNews Cayman on Sunday that the welter of private ownership in the area limited government’s ability to mandate warning signs and fencing, which, without enforcement, could prove ineffective.

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