Will Grand Cayman Anchor Ban Affect Cruises?

May 7, 2007

Grand Cayman, known for spectacular diving along its walls, reefs and wrecks, is taking a hard stance on the protection of its coral reef system: Cruise ships are now banned from anchoring at the Spotts Dock because of damage to living coral reefs caused by anchors and chains. As such, cruise lines whose ships utilize this secondary harbor will have to maintain their position using engines rather than anchors.

The Spotts Dock facility, located 4.5 miles from George Town as the crow flies, is used as an alternate port when seas are too rough (according to the Associated Press, some ships also use Spotts Bay as an overflow area on particularly crowded days); cruise ships don't actually "schedule" calls there. The ban had been in place previously, but was reinstated by the Government and Port Authority of the Cayman Islands effective April 19 after officials noticed ships were anchoring again.

A spokesman for Carnival Cruise Lines says that its ships generally anchor in George Town harbor and tender at the port, but have used the alternative Spotts Bay area to anchor and operate tenders during inclement weather. Under the new ban, ships can no longer anchor in Spotts Bay -- but they can stay on engine power -- and this is what the line intends to do.

In fact, a spokesperson for Grand Cayman's Government Information Services, Ariana Rahamut, tells us that all of the cruise ships regularly calling in Cayman should have the ability to hold position with their engines alone -- and indeed use their engines to hold position to some extent even when anchored. Rahamut also told us that if a cruise line chose not to utilize the area that would be a "deliberate decision" on its part.

Why would a cruise line choose not to stay stationary when they have the capability to do so? One thought on our part is fuel costs. Holland America spokesman Erik Elvejord tells us that a ship would actually use about the same amount of fuel to hold position as to cruise, because you still have to move out in the ocean -- the ship wouldn't be completely still. However, the decision to use Spotts Bay or cancel a call would be based on safety of the guests, tender operation and the ship: "It would depend mostly on how rough the seas were and could we get guests safely ashore. I would expect it is the same for others [cruise lines]."

At this point, no cruise lines have announced or are anticipating any canceled calls due to the ban.

The once-living reefs at the George Town anchorage point are now almost completely destroyed. In Spotts, because the ships anchor much less frequently (a few times a year as opposed to multiple ships on an almost daily basis) much of the coral reef is still alive. However, every time ships anchor they add to the destruction. The ban on anchoring is intended to preserve the remaining live coral in this area.

According to Grand Cayman's government Web site, a cruise ship anchoring for one day can destroy nearly one acre of intact reef with its anchor and chains.

--by Melissa Baldwin, Senior Editor