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Crocodile attack on divers - a lesson in safety first


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#1 Drew

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Posted 19 June 2013 - 10:39 PM

I forgot to post this earlier this year.  I'd written about safety with big animals, because a specific incident happened in Africa.  I didn't name the incident back then out of respect for those who were on the trip and of course the person who was injured.  There were also legal implications at the time. However almost one year later, the unfortunate (and totally avoidable) incident left one man with a seriously damaged arm.
As background, the Nile crocodiles in the Okavango Delta have been a big ticket draw for documentaries and photographers for the last 4-5 years.  Basically one jumps into the water and stays underwater to shoot the crocs.  There are ways to work with the crocs and stay safe, much like sharks or any other big animal with big teeth and taste for flesh.
However, this one expedition, led by Mark Addison of Blue Wilderness (who was involved in the shark bites of Tony White and Paolo Stanchi), went during mating season of the crocs.  That fact, the conditions, and the choices made by the operator and the guests resulted in a very bad incident for one of the guests.
 
First I'll let people view the video (WARNING: Although there is no graphic attack, the noises the croc makes and the screams of the victim are very evident! So if you aren't comfortable with that, do not watch the video!)


 
 
As you can see, the visibility was bad, with a strong current flowing.  More importantly, the water was waist high, so there was a lot of splashing at the surface, which was an absolutely bad idea with crocs ANYWHERE.  For any operator to let their divers in the water in such conditions is ridiculous, and for the divers to actually jump in (after having been briefed on safety by people who've done it before) in such conditions is equally foolish.
 
Obviously, we as divers choose our fates. My question is, at what point does the operator's responsibility stop and the clients start?  If clients hire an operator as a guide and the guide says it's ok to enter in unsafe conditions for whatever reasons, does that mean it really is ok?  Would a knowledgeable operator with safety of clients in mind, let them in the water in such conditions? Obviously it's easy to say in hindsight it was unsafe. However, the many people who've done this dive adhere to safe conditions like deep and clear water.  There are definitely risks and as shooters, we  wholeheartedly (foolishly too!) accept them.  This incident could have been avoided if the operator had been more conservative with guest safety and the divers (many of whom I consider friends) kept their safety caps on instead of the shooter cap.  This is not an admonishment but a warning for others who seek these sort of image subjects.
I hope this serves as a warning to those who do big animal dives that due diligence in research is important in finding out more about safety and stick with that. Don't just rely on the operator's judgement alone, especially in newer areas where not much experience can be had.  Also do a search on the operator's safety record (or lack thereof).  Keep safe out there!


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#2 MikeVeitch

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 07:11 AM

yikes


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#3 CheungyDiver

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Posted 20 June 2013 - 08:05 AM

Wow. First time I see a croc attack on humans.


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#4 Aussiebyron

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Posted 21 June 2013 - 07:33 PM

My question is, at what point does the operator's responsibility stop and the clients start?  If clients hire an operator as a guide and the guide says it's ok to enter in unsafe conditions for whatever reasons, does that mean it really is ok?

 

You first have to define what the operators responibility is to the client and also define what is "Unsafe". I bet that there was something in the contract between the clients and operators saying something along the lines of  "you have agreed to dive in a high risk environment with dangerous wild animals and accept the risks involved."

 

I believe that the clients already knew that there was a extremely high risk venture and they accepted the repsoniblity on themselves.

 

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#5 Drew

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Posted 22 June 2013 - 07:21 PM

Mark
I agree that the ultimate decision is by the clients. One client chose to stay on board because of the conditions.  The other side of the coin is that you pay a "guide" to guide you, as in tell you where the animals are, safety conditions etc.  This was a first trip for these guys.  There were told by many a veteran of this trip the safety considerations.  Then the "famous" guide says it's safe to jump in, when it clearly wasn't if safety and photography was a top priority.  Quite a few operators force the issue when the trip hasn't had any good encounters, so they push the envelope to get the clients in the water to "see" a croc and then it's job done!  A good guide would think of turbidity and safety, or at least that's something.  A safe guide also gauges the people on the boat.  Look at how the divers fumbled OVER the croc before it bit!  Allow his clients to sit around the bank where they are vulnerable to croc attack?
My opinion is that a guide's job is to give advice, and if they give bad advice which affects safety, then there is a certain culpability in creating the situation as well.   The ultimate decision is definitely by the client, thus even with the bad guidance and safety, they are ultimately responsible.  I do think that the operator is partially culpable when they aren't safe either though.
 

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#6 DamonA

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 04:14 AM

Mark
I agree that the ultimate decision is by the clients. One client chose to stay on board because of the conditions.  The other side of the coin is that you pay a "guide" to guide you, as in tell you where the animals are, safety conditions etc.  This was a first trip for these guys.  There were told by many a vet of this trip the safety considerations.  Then the "famous" guide says it's safe to jump in, when it clearly wasn't if safety and photography was a top priority.  Quite a few operators force the issue when the trip hasn't had any good encounters, so they push the envelope to get the clients in the water to "see" a croc and then it's job done!  A good guide would think of turbidity and safety, or at least that's something.  A good guide also gauges the people on the boat.  Look at how the divers fumbled OVER the croc before it bit!  Allow his clients to sit around the bank where they are vulnerable to croc attack?
My opinion is that a guide's job is to give advice, and if they give bad advice which affects safety, then there is a certain culpability in creating the situation as well.   The ultimate decision is definitely by the client, thus even with the bad guidance and safety, they are ultimately responsible.  I do think that the operator is partially culpable when they aren't safe either though.
 

 
What is that an episode of Jackass?
The croc tried everything not to bite the diver- but he forced his right calf into its mouth!
The scuba diver in the scubapro wetsuit, wasn't in control at all, trying to stand in that situation was a big no no, even the gear he used was a poor choice(if you wanted to do it with a tank either go deeper water or use a skinny 7liter tank, correct weight for perfect nuetral backplate with hog harness, with no bladder, full foot fins, no knife, pockets or crap, jumpsuit 3mm wetsuit) ,he was way over weighted and totally unsteamlined for that current. Even the clown using those old strobes, waste of time and very dangerous too set the croc off to bite- ambient hi-ISO/app would have to do it
 
- you could say he wasn't capable in those condtions, ultimately hes responsible because he'll have the scar for life.
I bet you he didn't get a refund even- if he says hes something hes not, it's hard to blame the operator- but really you could do all of that work off a telescopic pole with attached camera and remote viewing screen....this whole scene is a totally Jackass event. Same as clowns that hand feed sharks out of cages, it's bad rep for scuba divers and uw photogs, makes us come acroos as thrill seeking cowboys to the general populace(reminds me of steve erwin's fate).
Wild creatures need to be respected, this sure ain't it- this is bad karma......

#7 Drew

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 04:35 AM

Damon, as I wrote on in the first post, the croc bit the arm of one of the divers, because it was hunting.  The video just showed how bad the conditions were that they couldn't see the croc even in waist high water. Crocs don't try to take on big prey underwater because they are air breathers.  They bite animals at the surface, grip and drag them into the water to drown, usually by the "death roll" or sometimes just holding the prey in the water until it drowns.  
As for the equipment, is that something an experienced operator would advise the clients on?  The only reason a bigger tank is used is because the boat doesn't allow refills so one has to  use the bigger tanks for a whole day's work.
I don't know if you've done this dive.  If done properly, the chances of a croc attack are very low.  The bigger hazard is running into hippos! I don't believe in fed dives either but none of these crocs are baited, unless the operator allows the clients to splash at the surface in waist high water as bait! :)


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#8 Aussiebyron

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 06:02 AM

Drew picture this hypothetical scenario. Say the client who was bitten tries to sue the operator for being culpable for allowing them to enter into an unsafe environment.

 

Imagine Judge Judy saying to the Client...."you hired this operator to take you diving in the water with the aim to get close up shots of Crocodiles knowning all too well that this is a highly hazardous environment. You (the client) has a signed contract with the operator saying that you accept that this practice is hazardous and you accept the risks involved. So now your sueing the operator as you believe that the already unsafe environment was unsafe and as a result of this unsafe environment you where attacked by a Crocodile".

 

I can see Judge Judy looking over her glasses at the Client and calling them an idiot and wasting the time of the court.

 

I wonder if DAN insurance cover someone who was diving in water with Crocodiles and Hippos on purpose? Maybe they might have a higher than normal excess? More bites you get the higher the payout?

 

Regards Mark


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#9 ErolE

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 06:07 AM

It is all good and well criticizing the divers choice from the comfort of home with 20/20 hindsight, the harder part is making the call at the time. The fundamental truth of the matter is that we as divers have the right to expect responsible operators to organize trips that will mitigate any hazards as far as is practicable. Not only is this a right, in many countries this is also a legal requirement. If an operator does not feel an activity can happen due to unforeseen conditions such as inclement weather it is his/her responsibility to call off the operation until he/she feels that it is safe to proceed. These are the fundamentals of safety with any realm of endeavour, which the operator seems to have chosen to ignore in this case.

 

Indeed he has, seemingly, set up a trip at the wrong time (due to higher water temperature hence higher crocodile activity and oncoming mating season), in poor conditions (ie bad visibility) with the incorrect methodology (on the surface rather than underwater). Ultimately he needs to bare a great deal of responsibility for the outcome. In my mind the operator has shirked his responsibility in setting up an unsafe trip and exhibited  a cavalier attitude to client safety.

 

Whilst these facts do not allow clients to turn up and abdicate all responsibility for their own safety, safety MUST be primarily the operators concern. You cannot ask people who potentially have no experience of a given situation or interacting with a particular species to bare that responsibility. If we did and that was what the general trend in the industry was, we would see far more deaths and injuries.


Edited by ErolE, 23 June 2013 - 06:11 AM.

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#10 ErolE

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 06:24 AM

Mark,

 

In Australia this action would probably be successful :)

 

During my time living in Queensland I saw an operator (and a friend sued) on two occasions, both of which where successful and both of which I thought at the time where unfair:

 

Once when a diver cut his hand on the mollusc attached to an upline, he sued the operator and was successful. The thrust of his argument was that he felt he hadn t been adequately briefed about the hazard nor provided with adequate safety equipment in this case gloves.

 

Secondly a tourist couple thought that it would be a good idea to swim with the current for an hour during a static reef dive. Clearly when they surfaced and could not be found by the liveaboard and they subsequently spent some 8 hours drifting prior to being pickup up by their dive vessel. In this case WorkCover brought a case against the operator and found that he was negligent for allowing qualified divers in the water without supervision. 

 

 

The point to these stories are two fold

 

1) Liability releases do not mean a damn thing

2) Operator are fundamentally and legally responsible for their clients even if the clients do something that unexpected and not considered wise.

 

 

Erol


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#11 DamonA

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 02:17 PM

Mark,

 

In Australia this action would probably be successful :)

 

During my time living in Queensland I saw an operator (and a friend sued) on two occasions, both of which where successful and both of which I thought at the time where unfair:

 

Once when a diver cut his hand on the mollusc attached to an upline, he sued the operator and was successful. The thrust of his argument was that he felt he hadn t been adequately briefed about the hazard nor provided with adequate safety equipment in this case gloves.

 

Secondly a tourist couple thought that it would be a good idea to swim with the current for an hour during a static reef dive. Clearly when they surfaced and could not be found by the liveaboard and they subsequently spent some 8 hours drifting prior to being pickup up by their dive vessel. In this case WorkCover brought a case against the operator and found that he was negligent for allowing qualified divers in the water without supervision. 

 

 

The point to these stories are two fold

 

1) Liability releases do not mean a damn thing

2) Operator are fundamentally and legally responsible for their clients even if the clients do something that unexpected and not considered wise.

 

 

Erol

Erol- what that means is Australian judges look after their barrister buddys in court- they have made a joke out of justice and created a legal industry- emulating the Americans.

They have cut the throat of small business and we here are now living in a economic spiral to the bottom as the all levels of government amass debt while failing to deliver complete services and infrastructure(the whole reason they tax us and exist)- nepotism. The time a manufacturer needs to legal put a sticker on a ladders top rung "don't go above this step", is the time you need bring out the deldrin and do the whole legal industry like the bunch of roaches they are. This issue is being put under the micro scope especially when 8 time rapists are released to commit murder- time to wonder who the !@#$! gave that pommpous idiot a job, why do they have all anglo-saxon surnames, grew up in the same expensive suburb mosman, drive aston martins and went to the same university????

 

Drew, I lived in port douglas north of cairns, crocs will bite underwater, some actually hunt fish- I have seen a croc holding a dead wallaby underwater in its mouth from the safety of a high bank in the mowbray river, so I wouldn't be saying they don't- you might get sued for it! My point was those divers didn't have a clue, same as most of the "once a year warriors" we see coming out of the urban jungle into a world they have little practical experience with a head full of pre/mis-conseptions. Would I dive with a croc?? at 44y.o. I have better things to do like shooting nudibranches with a 10+ diopter because I can't see the frikken thing without a big lens- crocs I can see perfectly well on land or thru the surface with polaroided glasses or maybe a gopro on a stick!!!! :)

 

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Edited by DamonA, 23 June 2013 - 02:21 PM.


#12 Aussiebyron

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 06:55 PM

Mark,

 

In Australia this action would probably be successful :)

 

During my time living in Queensland I saw an operator (and a friend sued) on two occasions, both of which where successful and both of which I thought at the time where unfair:

 

Once when a diver cut his hand on the mollusc attached to an upline, he sued the operator and was successful. The thrust of his argument was that he felt he hadn t been adequately briefed about the hazard nor provided with adequate safety equipment in this case gloves.

 

Secondly a tourist couple thought that it would be a good idea to swim with the current for an hour during a static reef dive. Clearly when they surfaced and could not be found by the liveaboard and they subsequently spent some 8 hours drifting prior to being pickup up by their dive vessel. In this case WorkCover brought a case against the operator and found that he was negligent for allowing qualified divers in the water without supervision.

 

The point to these stories are two fold

 

1) Liability releases do not mean a damn thing

2) Operator are fundamentally and legally responsible for their clients even if the clients do something that unexpected and not considered wise.

 

Erol

 

Erol you most likely right as Australia, I believe has the second highest lawsuit rates in the world (USA being the highest).

 

But I think when it comes to diving that there is always some form of risk involved, from sitting on a Sea Erchin, getting sea sick, sunburnt, cutting your little finger on a mooring line to being mortally wounded from a big animal attack or simply drowning from running out of air. The risk is always there and the levels of risk can change in an instant.  Unfortunately people these days do not feel that they are responible for their actions especially when there own actions have put them in harms way.  Just have to look at the warning labels these days to see this. When something does happen they are straight into court.

 

I see legal liability coming more and more into the operators operating costs to cover such events. To the point were they charge you $6 for an air fill but then charge you $50 on top of that for their liability insurance just incase you do something stupid.  Or the only time you can get a great dive in is by going overseas to countries which basically have basic legal system and the operator has no insurance no liabilty and no money. With these operators working on the Darwin's Liability insurance of "if you do something really stupid your on your own" as the local dive operator is bogged down with liabilty, restrictions imposed and general conservative limiting of the divers.

 

When is it totally safe to dive in general and when is it totally safe to dive with crocodile in the rivers of Africa?

 

When is it safe to dive in an already highly unsafe environment?

 

Then another question to ask is if the conditions were perfect and the operator and clients did everything right according to the experts and there was an attack who would be blamed then? It would be still the operator for allowing the clients into an unsafe environment in the first place.

 

Common sense isnt common these days and more so in the courts.

 

Regards Mark


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#13 ErolE

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 08:47 PM

I am not defending a highly litigious society. Quiet the opposite it caters for the lowest common denominator whilst reducing freedom and pushing up costs for everyone else.

Nor, as mentioned, do I believe that clients can abdicate responsibility for their own safety.

The simple point I have to make is about the level of operator responsibility. Safety legalise, as used by the HSE, work cover and most other governmental enforcers of safety standards, is based around the phrase of "reducing risk as far as is practicable". The operator here has not seems to do so on multiple counts and therefore, to my mind, bares a huge responsibility for the outcome.

E

Edited by ErolE, 23 June 2013 - 11:18 PM.

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#14 Aussiebyron

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 10:19 PM

Erol, Could you see Workcover Australia even allowing you to dive with crocodiles in the first place?

 

Simple fact that Workcover would not allow you to work in an unsafe environment like diving in a river trying to shoot up close and personal for Crocodiles. Their idea of reducing the risk is to ban you from doing it.

 

Regards Mark


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#15 ErolE

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Posted 23 June 2013 - 11:41 PM

Hey Mark,

Whether work cover would or wouldn't allow it misses the point. This is about personal choice and soberly weighing up and researching the risks involved, which (and correct me if I am wrong) is Drew's original point.

Whilst the inherent risks are clearly much higher than doing a 10m reef dive on the GBR you have to remember that this kind of encounter does regularly happen without incident. As such there is an established methodology to doing this in a responsible manner.

My point is simply that if an operator isn t able/willing to provide the expertise, equipment, permits and logistical backup required to mitigate the risks involved, then the questions that go begging are 1) what exactly are we paying for? 2) having chosen to ignore established practice what level of responsibility falls on the operator when incidents do occur?

Clearly what is acceptable in terms of risk to some, is completely unacceptable to others. This holds true across all facets of human endeavor, not just diving. To be blunt, personally I prefer to live in an environment in which I can make informed choices about my safety rather than having regulations enforces upon me by the like of the HSE, work cover etc.

To re-iterate Drew stay safe and happy diving :)

Cheers Erol

Edited by ErolE, 23 June 2013 - 11:59 PM.

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#16 Drew

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Posted 24 June 2013 - 02:00 AM

Erol, Queensland is another planet when it comes to legislation for scuba diving.  18m depth limit?  Let's keep the discussion on planet Earth! %5Burl=

 

Joking aside,  the point of my post is to warn people about bad operators and more importantly, about themselves.  With even Anderson Cooper having dived with the crocs on 60 mins, and quite a few people offering this trip as an adventure trip, it was a matter of time before someone got bit because of lack of experience and bad luck.  I just want to remind people to keep sane and safe and use common sense, even when the operator thinks otherwise.

 

I agree that Mark Addison has a lot to answer, with the visibility and depth, not to mention letting the clients splash at the surface.  Then again, Mark doesn't have a lot of experience with the crocs.  There are people with much more experience like Brad Bestelink, formerly of Earthtouch and the other Earthtouch guys like Graeme started doing in much earlier and more often.  There's also almost a bible on diving with crocs called Into the Dragon's Lair, by Didier Noirot and Roger Horrocks, from whom one of the divers had a very detailed briefing from. I believe Mark has sold his interest in Blue Wilderness now, so it doesn't matter. Alsp remember the dives are only done during the winter months when the water is cold and the crocs are slower.

 

I must add I'm not admonishing the divers in any way since I'm sure they are still suffering from the effects of that horrific attack.  However, they made crucial mistakes that many of us may make in their fins. Their biggest mistake was desperation to get the shot that they ignored all the safety rules and common sense, despite the obvious bad viz and shallow water, which wouldn't have made for good shots anyway.  We can blame Mark for opening the dive platform but not for pushing the divers into the water. One of the clients had the presence of mind not to get into the water, even though they were having a bad week with the conditions. 

 

I've found a lot of South African operators will let their clients in the water in unsafe conditions.  My years spent on the Wild Coast, I've witnessed divers jumping in water that's has 2m viz, swimming at the surface with sharks feeding, again in bad viz. etc.  Would I go in because the operator says it's ok?  Or even stay in once I see for myself the conditions are unsafe?  To be fair that all comes from experience but also logic.  Just as it is logical that once a diver is at depth, the crocs are unlikely to risk attacking because they are vulnerable too.  A mammal isn't a fish, plus the nictitating membrane is believed to make underwater vision for the croc to be similar to humans without masks. If one researches the salt water croc attacks on divers, it's mostly snorkelers and spear fishermen.  The few scuba incidents were also at the surface.  In fact, the last attack mentioned on WP, it reinforces everything that is known about croc diving.

 

I'm not here to tell people not to do it. If you are going to do something like this, do the proper research and follow the safety rules.  Don't be pressured by the need to get the shot or the goading of the operator. It's your life, be responsible for it, especially if you have loved ones waiting at home!
 


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#17 Drew

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Posted 24 June 2013 - 06:41 AM

This is Anderson Cooper's 60 Minutes segment on the Okavango:

http://www.cbsnews.c...h/?id=50143486n


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#18 Aussiebyron

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Posted 24 June 2013 - 06:43 AM

 My question is, at what point does the operator's responsibility stop and the clients start?  If clients hire an operator as a guide and the guide says it's ok to enter in unsafe conditions for whatever reasons, does that mean it really is ok?  Would a knowledgeable operator with safety of clients in mind, let them in the water in such conditions? Obviously it's easy to say in hindsight it was unsafe.

 

Erol I think the orignal point was along the lines of what Drew quoted above.  What is the responsibilty of both the operator and the client to each other and the responsiblity of client/diver to themself. This is more important in higher risk diving activities and saying that this encounter is done on a regular basis without incident does not make it any safer as there will be always a higher risk involved with close interaction with wild big toothed animals which like to bite and in this case either Crocodiles and/or Hippos.

 

Clearly this type of diving is in countries which have no safety regulation imposed by the authorities like they would be in Australia (workcover) and I presume with any other country with some form of safety regulations. I couldnt see this type of venture be performed in  Australia, USA, UK, and in Europe........too much paper work, risk assessments and regulations to be made to make it even a possibility of ever happening.

 

At the end of the day you are putting your life in the hands of operators which are only regulated by themselves and have no government support or safety standards and further more combining this by diving with wild big tooth animals which have cause fatalities in the past.  If you accept the risks involved you also accept the responsibility if something goes pear shaped.

 

Regards Mark


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#19 Drew

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 01:17 PM

Mark

It isn't illegal to jump in with alligators in the US or the salties in Australia.  In fact, there are no regulations for that.  Of course, mammals like dolphins and dugongs are different.  

Whether the operator was grossly negligent in allowing his clients into shallow, murky water with a strong current and big crocs around is up to the courts to decide.  I started this discussion not to debate the finer points of liability law, but to remind people about staying sane and using common sense.

I was told that Anderson Cooper had his first dive in the Okvango in very poor visibility and strong current and he was oblivious to the danger because he was oblivious to the threats.  This is even though he was briefed about the dangers of crocs.  It's really up to the operators to recognize the danger elements because they are being paid for that expertise.  Forget liability, how about professionalism and safety of clients?

Unfortunately, there are clients who don't recognize danger due to stupidity, ignorance (inexperience) or overeagerness or a combination of all those things.  Even more unfortunate is that there are operators who have no regard for client safety because they are cavalier (a real man takes care of himself) and the same factors that clients may suffer from.  Sometimes, a bad combination of all these things end up in tragedy.  It could've been worse.


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#20 Aussiebyron

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Posted 26 June 2013 - 04:49 PM

and Who did Anderson Cooper do his first dive with in the Okvango?


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