SEATTLE (Reuters) - A massive luxury yacht owned by Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) co-founder Paul Allen destroyed most of a protected coral reef during a visit to the Cayman Islands in the Caribbean earlier this month, media reported.
An anchor chain from the vessel damaged nearly 14,000 square feet (1,300 square meters), or about 80 percent, of reef near two scuba diving sites in the West Bay, the islands' environment department said, according to the Cayman News Service.
Allen's Seattle-based Vulcan Inc organization, which manages his fortune, said on Wednesday that the M/V Tatoosh was moored on Jan. 14 in a "position explicitly directed" by the local port authority and that his team was cooperating with the investigation.
"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 said.
The damage to the coral, which is vital for marine life, comes five months after the billionaire philanthropist announced support for research to stabilise and restore coral reefs.
Allen, who owns the NFL's Seattle Seahawks and the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers, is also a massive benefactor in Seattle and beyond, funding everything from libraries to healthcare initiatives and oceanic exploration projects.
At 92.42 meters (303.21 feet), Allen's five-deck Tatoosh is the 49th largest yacht in the world, and has twin helicopter landing pads, an observation lounge, and a gymnasium, according to BoatInternational.com. Allen was not on board at the time of the incident, Vulcan said.
CNN reported that Allen could face a maximum fine of roughly $600,000, not counting civil damages.
The Cayman News Service reported that divers surveyed the damage last week and that the environment department expects to issue its investigative findings next week.
The service reported that shifting winds may have pushed Allen's vessel towards the coral reserve near the island, south of Cuba and home to some 58,400 residents.
It also reported that the Cayman government has been unable to collect fines after a number of similar incidents over the last few years.
The Cayman Department of Environment did not immediately respond to a request for comment, though an employee said the agency's director and staff were meeting about the incident on Thursday.
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky, Diane Craft