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Dive pros call for Malaysian regulatory body

dive master with turtle
Divemaster with turtle, Malaysia (William Warby)
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The death of 14-year old scuba diver Nathen Chesters after he, his father and two other divers had been separated from their boat has sparked discussion in Malaysia about regulation of diving operations – with dive professionals calling for the formation of a single dedicated agency in a bid to make the sport safer.

The four European divers had gone missing during a PADI Advanced Open Water Diver course off Tokong Sanggol, a small island in Johor state, on 6 April. The instructor was found first, a day later, and Chesters’ father and a female student were recovered only after they had been at sea for more than three days and drifted into Indonesian waters.

Nathen Chesters had grown too weak to survive as the group drifted south, as reported on Divernet, and the search for his body was finally called off on 17 April.

The boat’s skipper was reported to have been slow to flag up the initial separation, and had been arrested after being found to have taken methamphetamines on the day of the incident. As the search proceeded, the Sultan of Johor had ordered all diving and snorkelling to be suspended in the area pending a safety procedures review.

Coast Guard in Malaysia
Malaysian Coast Guard search for Nathen Chesters (MMEA)

Struggling to recover

Speaking to Bernama, the Malaysian National News Agency, senior diving instructors have now said that while such incidents were rare they were not unprecedented in Malaysia, and that the lack of diving regulation was a concern, especially at a time when inward tourism was struggling to recover following the Covid-19 pandemic. Diving was reckoned to be worth the equivalent of about £300 million a year to Malaysia before the pandemic.

PADI instructor Dr Samir Muhazzab Amin, deputy director at a university sports academy, welcomed the sultan’s intervention and told the agency that a single body reporting to a government department was needed to regulate scuba activities and monitor the registration of dive-centres and instructors.

“This tragedy may have tarnished our country’s image as a diving paradise,” he said, adding that Malaysia’s diving activities “are not well regulated and managed, while diving equipment and boats are not properly maintained”. 

Point the finger

Without a single body dedicated to diver safety, he said that not only was it easier for unaccredited people to open dive-centres but “when any unpleasant or unfortunate situation occurs, all agencies will point the finger at each other”.

The proposed body would “act as a referral platform to those who wish to get advice on diving, identify registered diving centres and use the services of certified diving instructors”, said Dr Amin.

He suggested that at present “problematic” instructors could get round termination for misconduct simply by being recertified by a different training agency, and that overseas instructors were able to work in Malaysia without needing to meet any local standards, even though no such reciprocal arrangement existed for Malaysian instructors. 

Diving operators were not required to inform any authority in advance about day-to-day dive-plans, making it more difficult to arrange rescue operations in an emergency.

Certified instructors

Another PADI instructor, Muhammad Fajrul Omar Muhamad Ridzuan, said that visiting scuba divers should make sure they used only certified instructors and boat skippers who understood their needs, and that licensing would make this easier, as would a set of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for boat-operators.

Dive-centres and instructors properly accredited by major training agencies should be expected to observe international standard safety procedures and to use boats that do the same. PADI lists 115 dive-shops in Malaysia, SSI 55, NAUI 11 and RAID four.

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