Bid to cut high rate of diving deaths

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

A registry system for diving instructors will be introduced within a month in an effort to cut a growing number of diving deaths in Hong Kong, where the death rate is well above the level in popular diving countries elsewhere.

The move by the Underwater Association for a voluntary scheme follows a call by a coroner early this year, after a woman died on a beginner's course, for the government to issue safety rules for instructors and to offer diving courses.

The death rate among Hong Kong divers doubled last year and so far this year to six per 100,000 dives - well above the 0.57 in Australia, 0.8 in Britain and 1.3 in Okinawa, Japan.

There were four deaths last year and there have been five already this year. Statistically, based on the number of dives since the start of last year, this works out to six per 100,000, the association says.

In the previous 12 years the average was three.

The deputy director of the association's diving safety and accident inquiry committee, Charles Wong Doon-yee, said the high death rate might be related to the uneven quality of instructors and a high number of casual 'Sunday divers' in Hong Kong waters.

'Underwater visibility in Hong Kong is not so clear compared to overseas places, and sea traffic is busy,' he said, citing other possible factors.

The association says it has found abuses by instructors such as a learner being rushed through what should have been a four-day beginner's course in just a day, and a beginner's certificate being given to a woman who did not know how to swim.

The association's safety manager will oversee the registration scheme, which instructors with three years' training experience will be asked to join. They will be provided with a certifying label that can be checked by would-be learners.

Instructors with at least a year's experience can participate in a workshop provided by the association to assess their skill and decide whether they can join the register.

The association estimates there are about 2,000 active diving instructors in Hong Kong, 80 per cent of whom work freelance, and about 10,000 active divers, with 3,000 beginners learning every year.

No re-examination is required once an instructor has obtained a licence from an international diving organisation such as PADI.

The association says the registry system will enhance the professional standards of instructors.

It will also conduct a survey of divers to asses their satisfaction with training, equipment and safety measures provided by their instructors.

In a beginner course, 30 hours of training includes theory and practising skills in confined water and open water.

Association committee member Lee Chee-kwan said some instructors had been found to violate safety rules of training, including leaving learners alone underwater for a while during open-water practice.

There is no legislation on dive training in Hong Kong and the association says it and the government prefer self-regulation.

But it has been trying without success to secure government financing from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department for its work, including for the instructor registry and diving safety leaflets.

'Every time we ask for resources on diving issues, we get a negative response as it is regarded as a non-competitive sport,' president John Fortune said. 'The government should seriously look into promoting diving safety.'

The association also wants the government to promote diving safety itself through measures such as television advertisements.

Take a deep breath

Diving fatality rates per 100,000 dives

Australia: 0.5
Britian: 0.8
Okinawa, Japan: 1.3
British Columbia, Canada: 2
Hong Kong (12-year average up to early 2009): 3
Hong Kong (2008-09 average): 6