Diving industry must put its house in order

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 June, 2009, 12:00am

Hong Kong has the closest of relationships with its coastal environment. From the fishing-village roots to what we eat, our weekend activities or simply looking out of the window, our city and the South China Sea are inextricably linked. Despite this, it is clear we are not as at one with our surroundings as we think. A high level of scuba-diving deaths has sparked calls for better education and regulation.

The number of fatalities per 100,000 dives over the past 12 months was six, double the yearly average. This is cause for concern, but it takes on a more urgent, alarming, dimension when figures from other diving localities are compared. From Australia to Britain to the US to Okinawa in Japan, the Hong Kong figure is up to a dozen times worse. The statistic is one we cannot ignore given our love for the sea and the international standards we seek to maintain.

About 500 people learn to dive here each week during the summer, and countless more go to resorts in the Philippines, Thailand and Malaysia to attain their diving certificates. Most of Hong Kong's 2,000 instructors work part-time. They hold internationally recognised licences from their organisations, but there are several standards and the regulatory process is patchy. Hong Kong's waters are also different from those elsewhere in the region - visibility is often poor, pollution levels are high and the water is generally cooler. A certificate or licence earned in the clear, warm waters off the Philippines or Thailand does not prepare a diver for what is encountered in Hong Kong. Competition for students among the diving schools in these countries is keen and teaching methods are not always as they should be. Our lives are busy and too often we rush to achieve our goals. That can mean not taking on board advice and warnings as closely as we should.

The Hong Kong Underwater Association has suggested a voluntary registration scheme for instructors. This is certainly a sound starting point. But an inquest in February into the death of a young doctor who drowned while diving also recommended better education. Given the high proportion of fatalities, diving clubs and authorities need to review our system with an eye on an overhaul.