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Extreme diving with big animals: Use good judgement!


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#1 Drew

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 08:26 AM

A few days ago, I got a message that I always dread to read, that someone was badly injured diving/photographing a big wild animal in bad conditions. I'm not at liberty to say exactly what or where the incident happened, but I can say the animal ran into a diver while trying to move off, bit in reaction (without intent to kill, otherwise that guy would've been dead). However, the injury to the diver's arm is catastrophic and there's a high probability he'll lose it. I'm sure the news will be coming out in a few days.
The reason I'm writing this is because the accident needn't have happened. According to those who were there, the visibility was about 3ft/1m and there was a strong current. Moreover, there were 5 divers in the water for one boat, making quick diver retrieval impossible. The well known operator allowed the divers to enter the water in very unsafe conditions and had very poor diver management once in the water. Worse, there was no essential gear like oxygen etc on the boat. And this operator often manages TV productions,where all the safety stuff equipment are mandatory, if only for insurance purposes.
To be fair to the operator, the customers were not all newbies. They chose to jump in as well because they were eager to get the shot. As proven over the years, the drive to get the shot tends to lead to stupid decisions. I've even seen some operators have clients who insist on jumping in on VERY unsafe conditions because they paid a lot of money and time was running out etc. Under pressure, operators also lose their sanity (and thus ability to say no) because they need the client to leave happy.
Arguments can be made for both sides. An operator needs to have all the important safety equipment and be firm with the client in dangerous situations, but also allow customers the best opportunities. Likewise, just because the operator doesn't pull a veto doesn't mean it's safe. There are operators who assume the clients know what they are doing and let them run wild. They also have to respect the decision of the operator when conditions aren't workable.
Basically, if the operator does unsafe things, choose NOT to go in. Be careful out there, there are bad operators out there who have no idea what they are doing, even if they have a good reputation. Most importantly, use good judgement and don't let the pressure of getting the shot push you into a stupid decision.

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#2 Steve Douglas

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 10:17 AM

Well written and thought out. Everyone should keep this in mind. I have seen many similar situations as you've illustrated.

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#3 Poliwog

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 01:12 PM

the visibility was about 3ft/1m and there was a strong current



Not trying to stir up trouble here, but how do you even find the shot, let alone get the shot in these conditions?

Don't know what part of the world this accident took place in, but it seems there is a definite lack of workplace safety legislation involved (or respect for the legislation, if it is in place).

Safety legislation in the province in which I live, makes it very difficult to force workers into unsafe work environments. The unsafe work environment decsision rests solely with the individual tasked with the work. (Heck, even the local Police force is only allowed to decend to 100 feet fsw before the need for an on site hyperbaric chamber kicks in.)

Previously, an employer or client could force a person tasked with the job into preforming unsafe work practices, without having to assume any financial responsibities should someone become injured. This has changed with the last update of the legisation. Those that are in a position of responsibity are now liable should a worker become injured while performing an unsafe act. This has led to a re-newed emphasis on safety on behalf of the people in positions of responsibility toward the individuals they are supervising/directing. There will also be a large increase in the premiums employers pay to have thier employees covered under the Workplace Safety Insurance Plan once a pattern of accidents start to show up. Too many mishaps like this will cause the premiums to escalate pretty quickly to the point where the employer will not have any choice but to confront thier safety issues if they want to remain competitive.

While this legislation works fairly well for all involved, I have seen instances in which an employer/client will ask another worker to perform the task without letting the individual know that the work had prevoiusly been rejected as too unsafe, in hopes of getting what they needed done as quickly as possible.

Two other factors that I think come into play are, the herd mentality of the divers, and the expectation that catastropic incidents like this will only occur to the other guy...

I sincerely hope the diver in question is able to complete a speedy recovery with as little as possible permanent disability.
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#4 MortenHansen

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Posted 12 September 2012 - 09:28 PM

Nice write-up Drew!

I have encountered the problem here in Bali lately that everyone comes to see the Mola Mola's in Nusa Penida. We have quite a few beginners with 10-20 dives who are requesting to go diving Crystal Bay.

Recently, in two separate accidents two very experienced divers got killed in Crystal bay, most likely because of the crazy down-currents.

The divers out there need to learn to listen to the suggestions of their dive-operators, if we say its not a good idea to go somewhere it means you should be ready to hang on for dear life with bubbles going down- but people wont listen and then threatens to go to another operator that will take them, current experienced or not.

Common sense is unfortunately the least dominant of our senses when big fish are involved.

Stay safe out there,
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#5 Drew

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 03:39 AM

Not trying to stir up trouble here, but how do you even find the shot, let alone get the shot in these conditions?

Well, there's always a chance of a clear patch coming in at the right time. "If you're not in the water, you're not going to get the shot" mentality has resulted in some awesome shots. It's a fine balance. No one is immune to dumb decisions. I've certainly jumped into situations that were Darwin award winners and I learned hard lessons. I'm just trying to add the throngs of reminders to those who go for these sort of extreme situations to think thrice before going in.
The responsibility of the operator is to provide safety etc. And those which don't or even endanger their clients should be put out of business. It's easy to blame the operators though, and ultimately, the operator doesn't (I hope!) put a gun to your head to jump in in bad conditions. There's really no black and white situation but a measurement of culpability in the decision.
I mean, if I travelled 30 hours, 10000 miles and spent $20k to get to the location and find out the operator is an idiot, do I go home or try my luck since I'm there already? In these sort of off the beaten path expeditions, often safety takes a back seat as it's really pioneering stuff.
Big animal diving is inherently dangerous. Animals are wild and can attack in predation or self-defense modes. Add bad conditions, bad luck and a bad operator into the mix and disaster is a likely outcome.

Recently, in two separate accidents two very experienced divers got killed in Crystal bay, most likely because of the crazy down-currents.

The divers out there need to learn to listen to the suggestions of their dive-operators, if we say its not a good idea to go somewhere it means you should be ready to hang on for dear life with bubbles going down- but people wont listen and then threatens to go to another operator that will take them, current experienced or not.

Common sense is unfortunately the least dominant of our senses when big fish are involved.

Stay safe out there,
-Morten.

Unfortunately, deaths is Penida/Lembongan occur more often than realized. At least a few divers die each year in the area due to the through flow. Without being sanctimonious, this is where the operator needs to stand up and risk losing the customer by saying NO to the client, If an operator just backs down and takes the customer there, despite their being newbie divers, their culpability increases because newbies don't know what they are doing. Unfortunately, in Bali, with the seasonal ops in Nusa Dua/Benoa running trips for anyone (even discovery divers), accidents are inevitable.

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#6 MortenHansen

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 04:02 AM

Unfortunately, deaths is Penida/Lembongan occur more often than realized. At least a few divers die each year in the area due to the through flow. Without being sanctimonious, this is where the operator needs to stand up and risk losing the customer by saying NO to the client, If an operator just backs down and takes the customer there, despite their being newbie divers, their culpability increases because newbies don't know what they are doing. Unfortunately, in Bali, with the seasonal ops in Nusa Dua/Benoa running trips for anyone (even discovery divers), accidents are inevitable.


I completely agree, its just a matter of common sense.
Unfortunately the "navy-seal-holiday-diver" with 300 dives done in 30 years does not have the same opinion. In the end we are bringing these people in danger if we don't stand up to our basic principles. Regarding the discover scuba diving in Nusa Penida, i've seen my share of craziness down there- and actually its amazing that no more serious accidents occur.

-Morten

#7 loftus

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 07:23 AM

Shit happens quickly; 2 weeks ago I was diving in good conditions with mantas. At our 15 ft stop on the anchor line with my wife. 3 or 4 large mantas were just playing around us when a large manta snagged the anchor line about 10 feet below us. I tried to go down to unsnag it, but before I could move very far the manta took off like a bat out of hell pulling the anchor line down and the float at the top with it. As the float pulled down through the water it snagged my camera strobe cord and I was off to the races. Of course I had no intention of loosing my new 800E, but I was trying to make that decision, when fortunately my strobe cord snapped. They later found the float with a short piece of line, so the manta must have dragged it over some rocks or something and hopefully once it snapped it simply pulled through and released her.
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#8 Paul Kay

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 07:55 AM

Safety legislation in the province in which I live, makes it very difficult to force workers into unsafe work environments.

If its a 'work' dive then legislation kicks in in many places and some is actually designed to safeguard the workers. If its a purely recreational dive then in many places legislation is far less intrusive. Generally speaking most of us have a desire to stay alive and common sense prevails. But there is the problem cascade, when a single problem escalates and quickly leads to multiple problems and diving in poor conditions from a boat with little safety gear (and no oxygen) should start to ring alarm bells about the potentialities for such a cascade. That said, I'm sure that many of us would have to admit that we have not always operated to best practice..... . I'm far from sure that more legislation would help though.
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#9 tdpriest

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 12:41 PM

... I'm not at liberty to say exactly what or where the incident happened...


Why not wait until there can be a properly informed discussion? It's more than a little unfair for you to bang your drum when a contrary opinion is unlikely to be voiced...

... two very experienced divers got killed in Crystal bay, most likely because of the crazy down-currents.

The divers out there need to learn to listen to the suggestions of their dive-operators...


Ahh...

... do the dive operators never take the money and offer the divers what they want, to avoid a fuss or unpopularity?

#10 MortenHansen

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 08:37 PM

Ahh...

... do the dive operators never take the money and offer the divers what they want, to avoid a fuss or unpopularity?


I'm finding it a bit difficult to see where I mentioned that they never would? Maybe you can point that out to me Posted Image

-All im saying is that you come to our diving center with ten dives and wan't to go diving at Tepekong at full moon- I think I'm a good enough salesman to talk them into doing an easy dive on the Liberty instead- bringing us roughly the same profits.

The very problem is that some operators out there will simply take the money and hope that their guests live to dive another day.

-Morten

Why not wait until there can be a properly informed discussion? It's more than a little unfair for you to bang your drum when a contrary opinion is unlikely to be voiced...


I think the point with this post wasn't to place blame, as no operator or even location was mentioned. On the other hand I think Drew simply wanted to start a discussion about safety in general which I think is great! (correct me if i'm wrong).

#11 Drew

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Posted 13 September 2012 - 09:44 PM

Why not wait until there can be a properly informed discussion? It's more than a little unfair for you to bang your drum when a contrary opinion is unlikely to be voiced...


As Morten says, the thread is about good judgement in recognising bad operational safety, bad conditions to dive/shoot in and generally making the right decision. I don't think any more details about one particular incident would help the discussion at all.

.. do the dive operators never take the money and offer the divers what they want, to avoid a fuss or unpopularity?


Many don't, but I know quite a few who'd say NO to me if conditions were unsafe. If I'm in an unfamiliar place, don't understand the animals, currents etc, or as a photographer I get distracted from the world to get the shot, I need the operator to take over the safety aspect.

I'm far from sure that more legislation would help though.


On the contrary, many photogs seek places with more lax legislation like Tonga, Bahamas, Mexico etc where it's easier to jump in with big animals.

Shit happens quickly;


Definitely. And doing it in inclement conditions increases the odds of something going wrong!

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#12 Paul Kay

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Posted 14 September 2012 - 07:58 AM

On the contrary, many photogs seek places with more lax legislation like Tonga, Bahamas, Mexico etc where it's easier to jump in with big animals

Regardless of legislation, those who really want to avoid/break rules/regulations and are prepared to do so will always find a way of doing so. And at the end of the day Darwinism will sift them out. Unfortunate but true - as might be inferred from the first post. Increasing legislation places an added burden onto others who already adhere to good practice and to be effective needs enforcement and appropriate penalties. Enforcement costs money and all of us end up paying.....
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