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Dive Accident Victims Face Maldivian Government Silence


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Posted by on June 05, 2008 at 18:02:16:

Tourist victims of a May 28 diving accident that left one dead and nine others poisoned say they have received no communication from Maldivian authorities, despite police holding a press conference to inform local media of the causes of the accident.

German victim Raymond Kober says the silence from the Maldivian government is “endangering our health”, as the divers had not been told the reason for their illness.

Meanwhile police have arrested a 21-year-old man, who was responsible for filling the divers’ air tanks, on suspicion of negligence.

But victims have called for Touring Maldives, which operated their trip, to be held to account, and said they believe an overhaul of dive safety measures in Maldives is imperative.

Carbon Monoxide

The accident saw ten divers affected by apparent air tank contamination, and led to the death of Russian citizen Roman Rudakov, 41.

At a Thursday press briefing, police told journalists the cause of the accident had been carbon monoxide poisoning.

After tests on the divers’ air tanks, they found most to contain carbon monoxide at the level of 80 parts per million (ppm). The maximum safe level for diving is 15ppm.

Air in Rudakov’s tank measured 150ppm, police said. But this was the maximum that could be displayed on the testing apparatus, meaning the actual level may have been even higher.

Meanwhile the surviving victims, and other tourists who were present, have emailed police and the tourism ministry to ask for any information available.

But they have had no response whatsoever, six of the tourists – originating from the Netherlands, New Zealand and Germany – have said. They were unaware of the air analysis until contacted by Minivan News.

“This is not good for other tourists coming to the Maldives,” Kober said. “They know if there is an accident they will get no official response. It hurts tourism much more than an open information policy.”

Tourism minister Mahmoud Shaugee said he could not comment on an incident which remains under investigation.

Health

The nine affected survivors have experienced ongoing health problems, with most seeking help from dive medicine experts in their home countries. Several have undergone decompression treatment.

But they have had to “figure out what could have happened,” according to Kober. The victims emailed police sergeant Abdullah Rasheed jointly to ask for information on 30 May.

“We would kindly like to ask the Maldivian investigator to release the detailed information of the analysed gas in the tanks...as we will need this information to get the best treatment at home as soon as possible,” they wrote.

“If it was CO poisoning, we have to make sure that long term effects of this intoxication will be as little as possible on each diver,” the divers explained. But police have not responded to the request.

The survivors also included two Maldivian dive guides, said to have been the worst affected.

Company

The divers had traveled on the safari boat Baani Adventurer, operated by local firm Touring Maldives.

An agent for the company initially told them they would receive a refund and compensation, they say. But they have heard nothing since, despite trying to reestablish contact. Spokespeople for Touring Maldives have also stopped responding to calls from Minivan News.

Meanwhile a 21-year-old man has been arrested over the incident, on suspicion of negligence, police say. He had been responsible for filling the air tanks.

But one diver says, “It is the company that is at fault...This is criminal negligence, plain and simple.” Kober agrees, saying he is now considering legal action.

Equipment

Police showed photographs of an air pipe leading to the Bauer compressor, used to fill the air tanks, which produced the poisoned air.

They said a crack in the pipe, poorly mended with duct tape, had allowed the contamination to enter – probably in the form of engine exhaust.

But through their own research, the divers have also discovered the company had failed to use a carbon monoxide filter recommended by Bauer when their compressor is used in conjunction with an engine.

“It is a shame, that a 21 year old boy is in prison, because the recommendation of Bauer was not cared about,” says Kober.

Diving instructors have told Minivan News Maldivian dive outfits rarely use the filters, preferring to save on costs.

“Swept Under The Carpet”

Two of the divers have told Minivan News they fear the incident will be “swept under the carpet”.

But in addition to misuse of equipment, they say, the incident exposed a lack of staff training in emergency procedures, with the tourists themselves left to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on Rudakov.

A dive safety seminar organised by the tourism ministry on June 4, with attendees from resorts and dive operators, gave rise to a plan to inspect equipment on all safari boats within three months.

In the longer term, first aid certificates will be required for boat captains, said deputy tourism minister Abdullah Mausoom.

Divers who experienced the accident have called for a “significant tightening of health and safety regulations”.

Mausoom says the “challenge” is to “make sure regulations are really followed”, especially on safari boats. But he believes the country already has “strong safety standards”.



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