Yesterday posed an emotional and challenging time for many of the staff and guests at The Reef Resort.
As the sun rose yesterday morning, people could see from our beach that a boat carrying 12 men was marooned on the reef that protects the resort. Urgent help was summoned, especially as two men had fallen off the boat, into the ocean and were in distress.
Captain Joey from Ecoventures was one of the first on the scene – he reacted very quickly and took it upon himself to single-handedly rescue the two men that were in danger of drowning. Joey headed out through the East End Channel in his boat and pulled the two men to safety.
Meanwhile other staff at the resort realised what was happening and began preparing food and drink for the men, understanding that whatever the nature of this event, the men would need food and water upon rescue.
It soon became apparent that the men were Cuban Nationals. A member of our Ground Staff, Papi, a Cuban ex-pat who has lived in Grand Cayman for ten years, served as translator and relayed the message that the men were would-be refugees, not intending to land on Cayman but in fact heading for Honduras.
In her article in the Miami Herald earlier this year, Nancy San Martin described the dangerous escape route that Cubans are now taking in their search for asylum in the US. The men could have taken the shorter and safer trip from Cuba’s northwestern coast to South Florida but would then risk being intercepted by the U.S. Coast Guard who returned some 1500 Cubans to the communist-ruled country in 2004.
The new route is much longer – 700 miles by sea to Honduras (passing Grand Cayman) and then 3,000 more by land to El Norte.
The journey towards Honduras usually begins somewhere along the southern coast of Cuba’s eastern province of Camaguey. A source says that if a stop is made in the Cayman Islands, authorities may encourage Cubans to keep going, but only in the vessel in which they arrived or another of Cuban origin.
Unfortunately the landing on the reef for these men meant that their boat was damaged and the shaft was broken, letting water inside the vessel. Officials at the scene waited to see what could be done for the men as East End locals rushed off to get boat parts and other supplies. Simon Boxall and camera crew from Cayman27 News were at the scene and interviewed Morritt’s guest Jackie Wilcox about what he had seen.
Eventually the decision was made to take the Cuban men into custody rather than let them continue the dangerous journey in a faulty vessel – attempts of local help in fixing the boat appeared to be disallowed at this stage.
Joey and Mr.Claire spent the rest of the day bailing and pumping water out of the empty boat as the water flooded in. It was taken away by instruction of the Department of Environment later that day with assistance from Mo at Ocean Frontiers driving Nauticat.
It was reported in the news this morning that the men will be sent back to Cuba and repatriated.
This was a situation where we were ultimately helpless – but not for want of trying.
On behalf of the resort, special recognition for effort is given to Joey, Papi, Mr. Claire, John Eden, Monica Wilson, Carol, Glendon and Clive who all worked extremely hard as individuals and as a team.