The Shipwrecks of Cayman Islands

May 26, 2013 1 comments

The Cayman Islands are made up of three islands - Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. They lie in western Caribbean Sea about 700 km south of Miami, 366 km south of Cuba, and about 500 km northwest of Jamaica. Grand Cayman is by far the biggest and most developed, with an area of 197 square kilometers. Grand Cayman's two "Sister Islands", Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are small - 38 and 28.5 sq km respectively - and located about 120 km east north-east of Grand Cayman.

One of the main attractions of Cayman Islands is scuba diving. The three islands of the Cayman Islands are the exposed tips of a massive underwater mountain. The sides of this mountain are quite steep, vertical in some places, within as little as a few hundred meters from shore. This wall has coral reefs, colourful fish, and other exotic underwater creatures, providing something extraordinary for scuba divers. And then there are shipwrecks.


More than 325 ships sank around the Cayman Islands, which lies in the path of sailing vessels plying between Cuba, the last stop before setting out on the open sea for Europe. Over the years, amateur and professional divers have discovered a substantial amount of sunken treasure in the Caymans. In 1970, a young couple from Dalton, Georgia, while snorkeling off the beach on Grand Cayman Island discovered the wreck of 450-year old ship that had disappeared in 1522 en route from Mexico to Spain. The ship was laden with more than 135kg of gold, platinum, silver, and many pieces of jewelry, still intact and shining after centuries underwater.

Other ships hold treasures of a different kind – a rich diversity of marine life.

The most celebrated shipwreck is that of Keith Tibbetts, a 330 foot Russian Brigadier Type II frigate that was sunk in 1996 by the Cayman Islands government as an artificial reef and recreational dive site attraction. Her propellers now almost half buried in sand at 56 feet, have become home to thousands of colorful Grouper, Grunts and over 100 species of fish and coral. Measuring near the length of a football field, the Keith Tibbetts bow rests a mere 100 feet from a small plateau, leading directly to the wall descending vertically to thousands of feet. This is one of the most awe-inspiring dives in Cayman Brac.

Another famous diving site is the shipwreck of the Cali. The wreck lies in about 20 feet of calm waters, just 30 meters offshore, with the ship’s ribs exposed and the engine and masts visible. Built in 1944, the Cali was a 66m masted schooner that was labeled a shipping hazard in 1957. It was blown up by the British Corps of Army Engineers and has since been a popular snorkeling site, because it lies close to the shoreline. Its location in relatively shallow water also makes it easy for snorkelers to explore, and it's richly rewarding because of its abundant marine life.

Cayman Islands’ most recent shipwreck occurred in January 2011, when the decommissioned USS Kittiwake was tugged to the west side of Grand Cayman and sunk to serve as an artificial reef and yet another dive site. The Kittiwake is already an extraordinarily popular dive. With seven mooring buoys in place, it sits almost perfectly upright at a maximum depth of only 62 feet. The top of the wreck is within seven feet of the surface, making it one of the few intentional shipwrecks accessible to both scuba and even casual freedivers.


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Source: Wikipedia, Historic Sites and Shipwrecks, Cayman Activity Guide, Alert Diver


  1. There are many reasons to fall in love with this place and Cayman watersports is only one of them. It was my first trip over there last summer and I am completely attached to this place, often the clear water waves hit me pleasantly in my dreams.


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