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Diver flies back from Malta – to collect seized CCR

easyJet aircraft
(Barcex)

A British diver has had to break his holiday in Malta to fly back to Manchester and reclaim the closed-circuit rebreather that airport staff had refused – without, he claims, telling him – to load on his flight out.

Kevin Openshaw says he learnt that his kit was missing only on arrival in Malta. He and dive-buddy David Ayre, both from Gateshead, had flown out with easyJet on 8 May, looking forward to exploring some of the island’s deeper WW2 wrecks, according to a report in The Chronicle.

The bag containing Openshaw’s £6,000 CCR was not on the arrivals carousel, so he had reported its non-appearance to airport security staff. 

The staff had no number for easyJet but, after emailing the airline, confirmed that the rebreather was being held at Manchester Airport and that, although no cylinders were packed with it, staff there refused to send it on. 

Openshaw, who had already paid an additional £180 for the item to be carried as sports baggage, offered to pay extra if that was an issue, but said that no such option was available.

His CCR diving, for which he had already paid £1,000, was due to take place in the second week of the 12-day holiday. He explored the possibility of hiring a rebreather or using mixed gas on open-circuit, but said that in either case the cost would have been prohibitive on top of what he had already spent. 

So halfway through the holiday he decided that his best option was to take indirect flights back to the UK, at a cost of about £500, to reclaim his equipment in person. 

Slept in car

Openshaw flew back to Manchester via Munich and slept in his car overnight at the airport before flying back to Malta via Brussels. In the process he says he lost four days of his holiday because of restrictions on flying after diving and exhaustion.

Attached to his rebreather when he collected it was a note that read: “This bag contains a large diving cylinder and nothing else. This bag can not travel. HBS Team Leader.”

Manchester Airport told The Chronicle that its security staff could verify that a diving unit contained no compressed air only by inspection, so passengers were required to declare a rebreather at check-in and demonstrate that the canister was empty. 

It claimed that at least two public announcements had been made for Openshaw to return to the security area, though the two divers denied hearing such a call.

“We are satisfied that all processes were followed correctly in this case and reasonable attempts were made to contact the passenger involved after his bag was held,” said an airport representative. “Passenger safety is and always will be our overriding priority.”

According to easyJet, it requested passengers to ensure ahead of departure that they were not carrying “certain restricted items”, or to declare such items when checking in.

“As Mr Openshaw did not declare his diving equipment to be able to confirm its safety for carriage, his bag had to be held by airport security staff,” it said. “We understand that attempts were made by the airport to reach Mr Openshaw to confirm the contents of his luggage, however as no response was received it could not be permitted to travel. 

“We are in touch with Mr Openshaw to provide clear information on the process of transporting his equipment, ahead of his return flight.” The divers are due back in the UK tomorrow (20 May).

Cocaine smuggling: South American named

In further developments in the case of the rebreather diver whose body was found beside a quantity of smuggled cocaine in Newcastle, Australia on 9 May, as reported on Divernet, New South Wales Police have issued a warrant for the arrest of a 32-year-old South American named Jhoni Fernandes Da Silva.

Da Silva is wanted by the Organised Crime Squad (OCS), which has warned that he could be dangerous. The police had earlier released security footage showing both Da Silva and a woman, and said that they were wanted for help with their enquiries.

The pair were thought to have entered Australia illegally aboard the cargo ship from Argentina from which the diver had been removing smuggled drugs.

Police have already arrested diver and superyacht tour organiser Jimmy Blee, as also reported on Divernet, and he has now been extradited from Queensland to New South Wales to face large-scale drug-smuggling charges.

Blee’s work covers both Australian and Indonesian waters, and the OSC suspects that the discovery of cocaine in Newcastle is linked with that of 179kg of the drug valued at the equivalent of £45 million found floating near the port of Merak in Java at around the same time.

The narcotics consignment intercepted in Australia is thought to have originally amounted to 300kg, but only 104kg was found with the diver and secreted in the ship’s hull.

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