The 3,000 gt megayacht Tatoosh and her crew stand accused of damaging 14,000 square feet of protected coral reefs in the Cayman Islands due to a dragged anchor, local authorities told media Wednesday.
Divers surveyed the reef last week to determine the extent of the damage, and they reportedly found that 80 percent of the coral in the affected area had been destroyed.
A Department of the Environment spokesman told local media that “in addition to assessing the damage and determining the cause of this incident, we are also paying close attention to lessons learned so that we can more effectively prevent these accidents while still hosting visiting yachts.”
Tatoosh is home-ported in the Cayman Islands, and as of January 27, her AIS history shows her under way on a circular track, a short distance from the alleged incident site off Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman.
The 300-foot yacht – larger than some government-owned oceanographic research vessels – belongs to multibillionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Allen also owns the Octopus, a 400-foot, 10,000 gt vessel with two helicopters, an ROV, a submarine and a crew of 60.
Tim Austin, deputy director of research for the Department of the Environment, told media that under national conservation law, damaging coral could be prosecuted as a criminal offense. Allen and his crew could be fined up to $600,000 and jailed for up to four years if found liable under the statute, and any assets involved – in this case, the $135 million Tatoosh – could also be confiscated. However, local news outlets said that other recent reef damage incidents in the Cayman Islands have not resulted in prosecution.
Austin described the area of the alleged incident as a prime reef diving site.
A spokesman for Allen's investment firm, Vulcan, told the Daily Mail that the incident was “greatly exaggerated” and that the vessel's crew had been following port authority directions in a designated anchorage. He would not confirm whether Allen was aboard the Tatoosh at the time of the incident.