Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen is combating allegations by the Cayman Islands that his superyacht, the 300-ft MV Tatoosh, destroyed 14,000 square feet of coral reef while anchored off of Grand Cayman in January.
The Cayman Islands Department of the Environment alleges that the yacht’s dragging anchor chain did the damage, impacting up to 80% of the coral in the area.
But Allen does not agree about the extent of his responsibility. There appear to be differences between the plans the Department of the Environment and Allen have for restoring the coral, too.
In a statement released by his company, Vulcan Inc., Allen and his spokespeople note that they have hired coral restoration experts to assess the situation, and submitted a remediation plan to the local government earlier this month.
“We took this step even though extensive past and recent damage to this same reef, as a result of other incidents that were not remediated, makes it difficult to determine what, if any, actual damage was caused by the Tatoosh,” the statement says.
Allen’s team contends that the Tatoosh was moored off of a popular dive site in a position “explicitly directed by the local Port Authority.” Upon learning of potential anchor chain issues, the crew relocated the yacht — but not, according to the government, before the harm was done.
“Because Vulcan continues to disagree with the scale and source of damage, as well as the length of time required for the restoration effort, details of the remediation plan have not been finalised,” Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of the Environment, said to the Cayman News.
Despite these disagreements of scope, cooperative repair work between Allen’s experts and the DoE’s team did begin this week, although both sides remain unresolved on the full remediation plan. In the meantime, the reef is at risk; any coral tissue still alive needs immediate attention to be salvaged. The Port Authority has issued an anchoring restriction in the area to minimise further damage and allow for work to proceed.
In recent years, multiple incidents of reef damage do not appear to have been met with government action. Video shows a cruise ship operated by the Royal Carribean cruise lines making similar damages in 2015, and in 2014 a Carnival cruise ship was also believed to have harmed the nearby coral.
“We are ready and willing to continue the work of the last two days and are hopeful the remediation plan can now be promptly approved and implemented,” Vulcan’s statement adds. “There is nothing more important than the pressing need to save and restore the damaged coral, and Paul Allen and Vulcan continue to stand ready to do our part.”
Allen is a known philanthropist and environmentalist who supports marine conservation efforts, including providing a grant for ocean health efforts earlier this year.
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