Divers warned of maverick instructors

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 12:00am

Fly-by-night operators undermine the sport's safety record, professionals say

With more housewives, professionals and schoolchildren as young as 10 joining the ranks of 40,000 scuba-divers in Hong Kong, senior industry figures are warning of the perils of maverick operators who offer 'short-course, cut-price' training.

Fly-by-night dive operations have come under scrutiny as part of a wide-ranging investigation following the latest scuba-diving tragedy.

Some operators, understood to be mostly working out of resorts in Malaysia and Thailand, are offering short courses and fake qualifications to students for as little as $1,000.

Beginners are being given the bogus open-water licences after as few as two dives with little or no instruction.

The details emerged in an investigation by the Hong Kong Underwater Association into the industry's safety standards and procedures following the death of mother-of-one Chan Young Wai-man on April 18.

Chan was a qualified diver on a day out at Sai Kung with friends and trained instructors when tragedy struck. Her death has become the subject of a coroner's inquiry.

Some of the 300 registered dive instructors and nearly 40 diving schools in Hong Kong have expressed concern about the training beginners are receiving from under-regulated operators.

'It all depends on whether or not the instructors follow the global standards and guidelines such as from Naui or Padi,' said association chairman Simon Yu Kwok-kuen. 'But in some areas these fly-by-nighters do not care if the trainee diver is up to standard or not. They are giving the licences to divers who should not be in the water without proper supervision.'

Naui, the National Association of Underwater Instructors, and Padi, the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, are two of the largest diving organisations in the world.

Mr Yu said his association would send memos on correct procedures to dive clubs and enthusiasts to promote the safety reputation of the industry.

'This is a well-regulated sport,' said another dive instructor, who did not wish to be named. 'But in the interests of risk management, we need to learn from what went wrong in this latest tragedy and determine how to avoid it happening again.

'And whether it is through procedures, or a training emphasis or a change in overall policy, it can only benefit the sport.'

Rommy Cheung Wai, former association chairman and Padi course director, said diving was growing more popular in Hong Kong as the cost of equipment and diving became cheaper.

'But we need to warn enthusiasts against going for these short-term, inexpensive courses because the training is insufficient and will not prepare them for the dive conditions in Hong Kong,' he said.

Student diver Tim Lam, 38, said he was drawn to diving by the 'other-worldly' aspect of the underwater realm. 'It is like nothing you can experience on land or on the surface looking down,' he said. 'It is very inspirational and incredibly peaceful.'

Before the plunge

People hoping to become a qualified diver must be healthy and able to swim

Open-water diving certificate courses in Hong Kong cost about $3000 and last over 30 hours

This includes five sessions in the classroom, five sessions in the pool and two days in the open water with four dives

Most class sizes are limited to a maximum of six to eight students. Most dive schools also employ a dive master to assist during the sessions

Before the trainee divers are qualified they must pass a written exam and satisfy a performance assessment from the instructor