Family files suit over diving tragedy


A mother’s grief: Andrea (centre) with her daughter Haley Fanke Chesters and Azlina holding up pictures of Nathen during a press conference. — ONG SOON HIN/The Star

PETALING JAYA: The loss of a child is traumatic for any parent, but the Chesters have not been able to even give their son Nathen Renze Chesters a proper burial.

The 14-year-old died at sea after a training dive went wrong near Tokong Sanggol, a small island off the south-eastern town of Mersing, Johor in early April 2022. His body was never found.

The family is now filling a civil suit against the resort and the diving operator, demanding that they be held accountable for Nathen’s death.

The boy’s mother, Andrea Van der Zee, who is still in disbelief after losing her only son, said she will never have closure.

“My son Nathen was a kind and sweet child, who always rooted for the underdog and I deeply miss having him around. What happened to him would not have happened if the service provider had taken reasonable preparations,” said a grief-stricken Andrea, recounting their last breakfast together.

The family, along with a few others, had taken the tragic boat trip from their resort, which also operated the diving centre, on April 6.

“We trusted them, but what we found out after the incident that things were not right. Now I am seeking justice so that others don’t suffer the same fate because my son suffered so much before he died,” Andrea told reporters here yesterday.

“I cannot see him again. I never laid him to rest and I will never have the chance to visit his grave. This is the worst thing that could ever happen to a family,” she added.

The family is also pleading with the Federal Government and the Johor Sultan to help get justice for her son, while ensuring that resorts take their guests’ safety seriously.

Despite knowing that nothing will bring her son back, she is hoping to create more awareness on safety among the diving community.

“For us, it seemed like my son just disappeared, but I want to fight for him, and in doing so I hope this will never happen to anyone else again,” she said.

It was reported that during the incident on April 6, four divers, including Nathen, his father Adrian Peter, 46, a French national and their dive instructor had surfaced about 20 minutes into their dive but could not find their boat.

Strong currents had separated the divers and according to Adrian, Nathen died in his arms on April 8, while both were drifting at sea.

Adrian had held on to his son’s body before he lost consciousness. When he came to after being rescued by fishermen on April 9, some three days after their dive, the boy’s body was nowhere to be found.

Adrian and Alexia Alexandra Molina, 18, from France were rescued by fishermen at around 1am off Indonesia’s Bintan island, about 100km south from where they had gone missing.

The group’s instructor, Kristine Grodem, 35, from Norway, was rescued on April 7.

The family’s legal representative, Azlina Abdul Aziz, said the boat operator, who failed to retrieve the divers, had tested positive for drugs, and subsequently charged under Section 15 of the Dangerous Drug Act.

The resort and boat operator were fined RM5,000 after pleading guilty for breaching the Merchant Shipping Act 1952 for operating without sufficient personnel, at the Kota Tinggi Magistrate’s Court in June 2022.

Azlina said the suit is also aimed at getting the Tourism Ministry to better regulate the scuba diving industry, which attracts a lot of tourists both locally and internationally.

“In Malaysia, diving regulations remain unclear, so anyone can open a dive centre or resort by registering the company without a permit.

“We hope the government and the relevant stakeholders will look into this issue seriously,” Azlina told reporters.

“Nathen’s death was confirmed by his father, who was holding him in the open sea, but due to dehydration and exhaustion, the boy died in his father’s arms,” she said.

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