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Cayman Port Sued Over Crushed Reef

GEORGE TOWN, Grand Cayman (CNS) -- The owners of a cargo ship which crushed a sizeable portion of reef off Eden Rock in December have sued the Cayman Port as they claim the authority is entirely to blame for their 100-metre, 3,000-ton cargo vessel running aground and then causing the damage.

The Saga ran aground in George Town Harbour and government officials said at the time that its owners, Risley Ltd, admitted responsibility. However, they now say that the port was at fault, not their captain.

In the writ filed in the Grand Court at the end of last month by local attorneys Campbells on behalf of Risley, the owners state that the damage happened while the ship was “under the direction” of the port authority staff. The owners are claiming damages and a contribution from the authority for the ship’s liabilities to the Department of Environment for the reef damage under the National Conservation Law.

The owners state in the legal action that the port is liable for several reasons, including its general management failures regarding day markers, inadequate and missing buoys and lighting, a lack of reef markers, as well as failures in safety supervision for ships in and about the harbour.

They also claim specific failings on the day the ship ran aground and say port staff instructed the Saga “to stop her engines when she was attempting to reverse away from the initial site of the incident under her own power, causing her to lose steering in windy conditions and to exacerbate the seriousness of the incident as she was blown further on to the reef”.

The writ claims that the port directed the tugs to tow the Saga sideways across a wider area of the top of the reef than had been affected by the initial incident, and with the loss of steerage the situation was exacerbated. The owners also made the final damning allegation that the port had failed to ensure that users could navigate the George Town harbour safely.

At the time of the incident the port officials had said the captain had not sought their assistance when he miscalculated his position and as he turned the ship, the captain steered the bow into the reef, where the vessel became stuck. At that point, the port stated, that two tug boats responded from the port and pulled the Saga from the reef.

The owners of the Saga had engaged Polaris Applied Science, the same firm that worked on the damage caused to the reef off Seven Mile Beach by billionaire Paul Allen’s luxury yacht last year, to assess the damage and work out if it was possible to repair any of the damage.