The three British scuba divers who remained missing when fire spread rapidly through the Red Sea liveaboard Hurricane yesterday (11 June) have been declared dead.
The three had elected not to take part in an early-morning dive at Elphinstone Reef, so while the other 12 British divers in the group were being briefed on deck at around 6.30am, well-placed to evacuate the vessel when the fire broke out, the others had still been below, probably in their cabins.
In an update on the aftermath of the fire, tour operator Scuba Travel, which has represented the award-winning Hurricane in the UK since 2001, says that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) has now contacted the families of the deceased divers, who have yet to be named.
“The severity of the fire meant that the 12 divers were immediately evacuated by RIB to another craft nearby and the 14 crew-members, including the captain and two dive-guides, having tried to reach the missing guests, also had to abandon ship and were rescued by RIB,” says Scuba Travel.
“It is with great regret that we, as tour operator, with heavy hearts, must accept that three of our much-valued dive guests. who had not participated in the dive briefing, early on the morning of June 11, perished in the tragic incident. Our sincere and heartfelt condolences go out to their families and friends at this very sad time.”
After the fire
The other 12 guests were brought ashore to Marsa Shagra, where they were provided with any medical attention required and gave statements to the local police. With no personal possessions, they were moved to a hotel in Hurghada where a Scuba Travel representative was assisting them in acquiring clothes, personal effects and, where possible, mobile phones.
The FCO and Cairo consulate were said to be doing everything possible to arrange emergency travel documents for guests wishing to return to the UK, and the local authorities and police were set to investigate the cause of the fire. Hurricane was to be towed to port once cooled enough to enter.
Scuba Travel emphasised that in its 22-year association with Hurricane the liveaboard’s safety record had been “excellent”. Its popularity among British divers had been underlined by the fact that Diver magazine readers had voted it Liveaboard of the Year for all four years leading up to the Covid pandemic.
UPDATE: The three victims of the fire have been named as Christina Quinn, 58, chief executive of St Luke's Hospice, Plymouth after a long career in the NHS; Stephen Hill; and Paul Darling.
New Dream hits coral reef
In the wake of the Hurricane tragedy, it has emerged that another serious safari boat incident had occurred in the same part of the Red Sea only four days earlier.
The liveaboard New Dream, formerly Orion, of Hurghada-based Mirage Marine Fleet, had been travelling by night when it struck a coral reef, cracking its hull open, taking on water and submerging to upper deck level.
The 38m liveaboard had reportedly been taking one of a group of 26 Polish divers onboard to Marsa Alam with suspected decompression illness, although it was still three hours south of the port when the incident occurred at around 1am.
It remains unclear whether the Red Sea authorities had been notified of the diver’s condition or, later, of the collision with the reef, but there were no reports of a Mayday call being made.
With no time to collect personal possessions, the divers along with eight crew and two guides took to the liveaboard’s two tenders, waiting some four hours near the New Dream for help to arrive.
They were picked up at first light by rescuers from another diving liveaboard called Enjoy. It had been preparing to take its guests for an early dive when its crew spotted the New Dream evacuees’ lights.
There were no reports of serious injuries among those rescued, including the person with suspected DCI, and Enjoy brought them back to Marsa Alam. “We also still waiting for the authorities to finish investigations, so we can have a full version for the accident report,” Egypt's Chamber of Diving & Water Sports (CDWS) told Divernet.
Legal action over Carlton Queen
It has been a dismal springtime for Red Sea dive liveaboards in the past two months. Passengers who were in many cases fortunate to escape from the capsized Red Sea liveaboard Carlton Queen, in an incident described in detail on Divernet last month, are planning to take legal action against the owners for carrying paying guests on a vessel that they allege was unseaworthy.
The boat had been on only its second outing since work was carried out to enlarge it, and was reported to have been listing even before its departure. Carlton Fleet told Divernet: “We are co-operating with the Egyptian authorities to determine the cause of the accident and urge all those concerned to wait for the result of the investigation so that we may determine the next steps.”
But on a GoFundMe page set up by German guests Dominic and Zoe Josephine Schmitt, they say that during the incident they had struggled with the safety equipment and protocols on board. “There were life-rafts that didn’t work or immediately drifted with the current, flares that wouldn’t fire, an untrained crew and a captain who was one of the first to leave the boat, solely concerned with saving his own life,” they allege.
“About six divers were trapped in the sinking wreck for up to 30 minutes, others fell off the boat during the incident and some were paralysed from shock.” They also allege that guests were left alone to deal with the aftermath of the incident, and claim to have been – unsuccessfully – “threatened, lied to and pressured into giving false information to the authorities” by representatives of the operator.
The fund-raising is to cover the costs of replacing equipment for dive professionals among their group of guests who had lost their own; to fund medical treatment not covered by insurance; but also “to get the legal support we need to hold the organisers accountable and to make sure nobody ever has to experience what we went through and what in hindsight could have been avoided”. The divers have so far raised around 5,000 of the 15,000 euros sought.