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Saturday September 14, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Saturday September 14, 2013 MYT 6:56:48 AM
by andrew sia
Divers should always check and recheck their equipment before going underwater.
Cost cutting in diving courses can result in tragedies. Divers and operators need to ensure that standards of quality are strictly upheld.
THE recent drowning of two male Singaporean scuba divers at Pulau Tioman on Sept 7 has raised questions about the safety standards of some instructors and dive courses.
The victims, aged 35 and 48, were a dive instructor and his student, who were doing their “open water” dive course.
“Dive operators here are talking about how the tragedy happened because of cost cutting,” says an operator in Tioman who wishes not to be identified.
“It seems that he was a freelance dive instructor from Singapore who had three students. Instead of getting a fresh tank (of air) for every dive, he tried to save money by using the same tank for more than one dive.”
According to this dive operator, it then seems that the students ran out of air while still underwater.
Two students didn’t panic and did the right thing: they performed the “controlled emergency ascent to surface” taught in scuba diving courses, that is swimming to the surface while breathing out (air in the lungs expands as one swims upwards and ambient water pressure is lowered).
And then, again as per course instructions, the two then inflated their dive jackets (called BCDs) manually, by blowing air into the attached mouthpiece, thus turning their BCDs into life jackets to float safely on the surface.
“However, we heard that one student panicked when surfacing and didn’t know or remember how to manually inflate the BCD. And that’s why he drowned.”
It’s unclear why the instructor also perished. However, Awang Hatiah, the police officer from Rompin, Pahang, said that the instructor went to help the struggling student, and is likely to have pulled the diving equipment, causing water to seep in.”
The dive operator says that is why their centre insists on charging for air tanks per dive, rather than per tank.
“We’ve encountered these situations before and we want to avoid it.”
When contacted, another dive instructor from Kuala Lumpur, confirmed that cost cutting over renting air tanks – only about RM20 to RM30 (or S$8 to S$12) each – was the probable cause of the tragedy.
“But nobody wants to say things in public until an official report has come out,” says this instructor.
However, online discussion forums are buzzing with the news.
“There is huge, huge pressure to offer dive courses at the cheapest rate possible. Many Singaporeans and Malaysians take pride in finding the very best bargains, but of course an operator or instructor then has to make ‘adjustments’ to cut costs,” goes one posting.
The most popular school for training divers is called PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) but one online posting says:
“The common joke is that PADI stands for Pay And Dive Immediately. I’ve seen some stuff that I do not like here in the region. There are operators here that I would trust 100%, but not all shops here gives me that level of confidence.”
Anthony Hiew, who has been a dive instructor since 1994, finds that training standards are “on the low side” these days.
“Some instructors produce divers with the minimum skills instead of putting in the effort to help students sharpen their skills.”
However, he adds that it’s hard for a new diver to choose instructors when you don’t the quality of training until you are, well, in the water.
Rahayu Zulkifli, a turtle conservationist and a self-confessed “scuba addict” (with rescue diver certification) says, “It appears as if scuba diving business has become a cut-throat industry with diving schools under-cutting each other. There are some instructors who certify non-swimmers as scuba divers. Has it become a matter of quantity over quality?”
“I somehow think that the short four day three night ‘open water’ courses cram too many things in too quickly. How much can students remember?”
Most dive courses are of two types. First are the typical 4D/3N crash courses where everything (practical and theory) is learned “under the coconut trees” on the island.
Then there are courses where theory classes and some pool practice sessions are first held in the city, before going off to the islands. This usually costs a bit more, but it does give more time for diving students to absorb their lessons. This latter option is much preferred for those who have little confidence in the water.
Another dive operator says, “Sometimes it makes sense to pay a bit more for better safety and service. Go for the more reputable operators, for example, those which have the PADI 5-star rating.”
Another issue is that divers may have had too little practice.
“You have to dive regularly. Too long being dry will make you forget basic skills,” comments Rahayu.
“Many dive centres now pamper divers by gearing up their equipment for them. It’s nice to be pampered while on holiday, but divers will become less and less familiar with their own equipment, and may forget what goes where.”
Dive instructor Pamela Lim says this is an equipment-intensive sport.
“Any diver should take extra precautions in the preparation, setting up and maintenance of the gear that your life depends upon. Please check, check and recheck before you go down.”
Lee Siew Yeen, who used to operate a dive centre in Tioman, says, “Back then, I recall that PADI allowed up to eight students with a dive master assisting. But actually, even four students can be a handful if they have poor water skills.”
“Some people don’t understand what they are getting themselves into. I once spoke to a college student who, even after being certified, did not know one is supposed to know how to swim before being a diver.”
“I think would-be divers need to be better educated on what they are signing up for and be prepared to take it seriously.”
However, the Tioman dive operator adds, “Overall, despite occasional accidents, diving is a safe sport, as long as divers and operators follow the rules. In this case, when the divers were low on air, they should have surfaced, instead of trying to max out their tanks.”
Hiew sums it up: “There is danger in everything we do, not just diving. You can also die while driving a car. Or if you walk across the road while texting on the phone. All this actually boils down to being responsible divers.”
Tags / Keywords:
Lifestyle, Diving, Safety, Scuba, Tioman
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