Kittiwake’s complexities worth it

The ex-USS Kittiwake will be sunk off West Bay in December. It’s considered to be the biggest diving boost for Cayman since Stingray City was established. The Cayman Islands was widely-represented at the recent DEMA dive show, at which interest in the project was immense from all aspects of the diving industry. The wreck may have taken seven years getting here, but it will be an attraction for sea and land life for many decades to come as it serves both as a pull for divers across the world and, crucially, as a brand-new artificial reef.

The sinking of the ex-USS Kittiwake has been seven years in the making.
The project, a collaboration between the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the Department of Tourism and the Ministry of Tourism, had its genesis back in the early years of the new millennium, explained project manager Nancy Easterbrook.

“We had a set of orders from the Department of the Environment including he overall length, the material the vessel was made of, in order to be suitable in terms of not breaking up or cutting in half; it couldn’t be too big – an aircraft carrier wouldn’t work for example as we don’t have 600ft of underwater topography.

“So we got a list from the Maritime Administration and looked at ships in Texas, Virginia and California and identified the ASR-class as suitable; solid, steel-hull construction, 18 compartments with bulkheads inbetween, which in the operations of the ship would have allowed a breach in any part of the ship and still be able to contain it. We found the Kittiwake and her sister ship, the Sunbird, both at James River, Virginia,” she said.

The project leader added that the Kittiwake, a ship that serviced submarines and had an active crew that were divers is very dive-centric. There was a recompression chamber on board, diving lockers, quarters and the ship’s whole purpose in life was servicing submarines and divers.

“When we looked at the history it was a bonus – she had spent time in the Caribbean and even came to Cayman at one time as well as her time across the pond. The culture, the history, the diving and the environmental requirements blended into one nice package.”

Once underwater, explained Easterbrook, it will start its new life, and very quickly attract first algae then fish and corals.

Complex project
The project has been very complex because it has involved dealing with two countries, each with their own set of legal conditions, import/export rules and environmental rules, concluded Easterbrook.

“We can all appreciate the complexity of doing a project of any nature just here in Cayman which has a variety of oversights from different bodies, organisations and whatnot – when you double that by adding on the US equivalent of those bodies it was very challenging to satisfy all parties.

“Getting the approval to be the pilot project for the donation of a ship to a foreign government from Maritime Administration was a humongous step; that was about five bookcases of paperwork in itself! Time has had its play on this; new laws come into play, revisions come into play and the goal lines consistently move just because there are new guidelines to operate under. It was rewarding to be accepted and to get a letter from the US Environmental Protection Agency saying that we have met the requirements,” added the project leader.

It’s widely considered to be the most important project since Stingray City; the diving community is rightly excited about the prospect. It may have been seven years in the making, but the Kittiwake will form a vital part of tourism and the environment for decades to come.