Justine Clark and her sons, Felix and Max, were left abandoned by the divemaster after in Fiji.Courtesy Justine Clark
Story posted for Willie Wonka
A Newcastle woman says an Australian cruise company should have been better prepared for adverse weather after a holiday scuba dive in Fiji almost ended in disaster when a dive boat disappeared.
When Justine Clark and her sons Felix, 18, and Max, 20, surfaced from an offshore dive in Fiji on August 14, their dive boat was nowhere to be seen.
A diver with more than 30 years’ experience, Clark had booked an afternoon dive at an offshore site called The Supermarket.
Their dive party included an English tourist and the divemaster, who worked for Viti Water Sports, a company subcontracted by Captain Cook Cruises.
On the way to the dive site the weather had deteriorated, but the party pushed on.
“We travelled into an approaching storm and out in open waters in what appeared to be a large channel about 20 kilometres from any island,” Clark said.
After a regulation drift dive of about 40 minutes, she surfaced with her eldest son.
“No tender boat was visible on surfacing, the swell was two metres, it was dark with grey clouds and high wind,” Clark said.
She said their divemaster was next to the surface.
“He was shocked at the events and stated this had never happened in his 27 years of diving,” Clark said.
Garbage collector to the rescue
The divemaster advised the group to start swimming for an island they could see in the distance.
“I can’t impress how concerned I was for everyone’s health, sharks and the sense of determination I had to reach the island in a calm manner,” Clark said.
After about 50 minutes, the divemaster yelled that a small boat was travelling toward the group.
He advised the divers to inflate their surface marker buoys in a bid to be seen.
The group’s savior was a garbage collector who had been picking up rubbish in the ocean.
He had noticed the tip of one of the diver’s buoys.
Soon after, the tender boat driver motored over to the group.
“He apologized and told me he was so scared and he had radioed the captain that he lost us,” Clark said.
In a written response to the ABC, Captain Cook Cruises explained that the tender boat had blown away from the dive site and that surface conditions made it difficult for the operator to follow the divers’ bubbles.
The company said the situation was unprecedented and that a full internal review had been undertaken, resulting in “already tight” safety procedures being changed.