The Guardian has reported that a 303-foot yacht owned by Microsoft’s co-owner Paul Allen has destroyed nearly 80 percent of a protected coral reef in the Cayman Islands.
Ironically, Allen is a known marine conservationist, and reports have confirmed that he was not on-board the MV Tatoosh, his superyacht that is listed as the 49th largest yacht in the world by Boat International, when the incident occurred.
Local Cayman officials confirmed that the MV Tatoosh’s chain tore through 14,000 square feet of coral reef in the West Bay replenishment zone.
That is a devastating fact considering that only an estimated one percent of the Earth’s surface, and less than two percent of the ocean bottom, is covered by reefs; reefs are an essential component of marine life that allows its ecosystem to flourish while also protecting coastlines from large waves and tropical storms.
According to the Seattle Times, Allen’s camp is pinning the blame on the Cayman Island’s Port Authority, “claiming that they [MV Tatoosh’s crew] followed instructions when mooring the superyacht,” and that “Shifting winds reportedly changed the position, pushing the ship toward the reserve but it was relocated to avoid damage,”
Paul Allen’s firm, Vulcan Inc. has since released a statement regarding the incident, which occurred earlier this month.
“On January 14, 2016, M/V Tatoosh was moored in a position explicitly directed by the local Port Authority. When its crew was alerted by a diver that her anchor chain may have impacted coral in the area, the crew promptly, and on their own accord, relocated their position to ensure the reef was protected. Vulcan and the ship’s crew are actively and cooperatively working with local authorities to determine the details of what happened. An investigation by local authorities is ongoing.”
The incident is an alarming one for those who are knowledgeable of the Microsoft co-owner’s philanthropic work: Allen made an impact during the Ebola epidemic of 2014 by contributing $100 million to the cause; he has funded research for furthering brain and cell science; and most recently, he invested in programs for ocean health and the preservation of certain ocean species.
Reports indicate that the damage caused by the yacht could result in a fine of up to $600,000, and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment is expected to report its findings on the incident in the coming week.
The Seattle Times has highlighted the Cayman government’s inability to collect on similar sanctions levied on cruise-ship lines and other mega yacht owners in the past, but seeing that this incident is such a high profile case, both sides may hold themselves accountable once the government comes to a conclusion on which party is responsible.
The recent incident adds to the number of issues the Cayman Islands has had with large vessels. Just last year, a cruise ship destroyed a large tract of coral reef that resulted in no fines or donations being paid.
A spokesperson for the Cayman Island’s department of environment said it was “paying close attention to lessons learned so that we can more effectively prevent these accidents while still hosting visiting yachts”.
As mentioned earlier coral reefs are an essential component of marine life and are the most diverse of all marine ecosystems. One quarter of all ocean species depend on reefs for food and shelter while also proving to affect the lives of humans by also providing food, medicine, the protection of shorelines and jobs based on tourism.
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)