The U.S.S. Kittiwake, a decommissioned, 251-foot military ship will soon be towed to Grand Cayman for its last assignment: Cayman’s newest dive attraction.
The culmination of a seven-year project between the Ministry and the Department of Tourism, the Kittiwake left the James River Reserve Fleet in St. Eustis, Virginia, on February 18 to be cleaned prior to its arrival in Cayman.
The military vessel will be sunk sometime in July or August this summer on the north end of Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach to provide underwater enthusiasts of all skill levels with a new year-round diving destination.
“Without the initial conceptual and financial support of the Ministry of Tourism, led by the Premier, the Honourable McKeeva Bush, then Minister of Tourism, the Kittiwake would never have happened,” said Nancy Easterbrook, Kittiwake project manager.
“The Ministry of Tourism realized the importance of this initiative when it was first proposed in 2002 and assisted us in kick-starting its development,” said Ms Easterbrook. “CITA came on board and matched those funds and both parties have committed to keeping the project moving forward the past seven years.”
Prior to sinking, the Kittiwake will be thoroughly prepared for divers and the waters here. All hazardous materials and chemicals will be removed to ensure that they will not leach into Cayman waters. Multiple vertical and horizontal cutouts will open up the ship to allow natural light to flood the body and enable divers to explore the entire ship safely.
Once sunk, the ship will be marked with corresponding slates for boat operators and divers/snorkelers to be able to easily identify where they are on the ship.
Steve Broadbelt, president of CITA, said that the Kittiwake will boost tourism, bringing new visitors and repeat guests to the islands, since diving shipwrecks is one of the most popular reasons for going diving or snorkeling.
“Cayman has always been a leader in the diving industry and this project will position us a hot spot for many years to come,” said Mr Broadbelt. “Being both a dive and snorkel attraction, it will be opened as a new tour for both stay-over and cruise visitors later on this year. It’s the single biggest project for the water sports industry since Stingray City.”
The five-deck, 2200-ton Kittiwake was originally commissioned as a Chanticleer-
class submarine rescue ship in the United States Navy during World War II. Now it will join the MV Captain Keith Tibbetts, a Russian frigate sunk off the coast of Cayman Brac in 1996, which was at the forefront of the artificial reef movement in the Caribbean.
The Kittiwake has lots of rooms to explore, including the recompression chamber, air bank storage, engine room and dive locker. Being sunk in only 65 feet of water, the top of the bridge and smoke stack will be only 20 feet from the surface. “Perfect for snorkelers,” added Ms Easterbrook.
The Kittiwake was selected for the reefing project due to her size and height, suitable for Cayman waters, as well as her overall weight, a solid steel ship with 18 bulkheads. This type of ship will have the longest life underwater and is less susceptible to break-up and damage due to storms.
“It is exciting to see this project move to the next phase with the Cayman Islands now owning the Kittiwake,” said Shomari Scott, Acting Director of tourism. “The DOT anticipates that the Kittiwake will create a lot of buzz and visitor arrivals as it’s new, exciting and highlights Cayman’s significant dive and water-based tourist market.”
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