Getting left behind during a diving party in the open sea is a rare occurrence, and the probability of it happening is very slim. Yet that’s exactly what happened to three Australian tourists and a divemaster in tropical Fiji.
It was one hour before they were found. Justine Clark from Newcastle, her sons Max and Felix, a divemaster and an English tourist resurfaced to find their dive boat was not visible and they were in open sea with the waves rising and black clouds covering the sun.
The divemaster’s company was subcontracted for the dive by Captain Cook Cruises Fiji. The terrifying incident took place in August when the Clarke family were on vacation in Fiji.
Ms Clarke told media in Australia that even as they headed out to the dive site, the weather was turning gnarly, yet the company pushed on.
The company of divers was only rescued after they swam for about 50 minutes and saw a boat, then inflated their dive buoys. It was the dive buoys that were spotted by the boat, that was collecting garbage from the ocean, which then rushed to collect the stranded divers.
However as they did that, the dive boat returned. According to the dive contractor, Viti Water Sports, it was a rare occurrence. Company director Michael Agnew said a mistake was made and since then they had taken stringent measures.
Captain Cook Cruises, the cruise company the tourists had booked with, denied the dive boat had left the party, saying the boat was in the area trying to locate where the divers had surfaced.
“Safety of passengers is our number one priority and great care is taken with all water activities,” said chief executive officer Allison West.
“The situation was unprecedented in deteriorating weather conditions. The tender supporting the dive continued to try to re-establish contact with the divers throughout and was in constant contact with the ship.
“An extensive review of the circumstances and safety protocols has (now) been undertaken with already tight safety procedures having been further strengthened both within the company and the dive contractor,” she said.
A veteran local dive boat operator Jone Delai said as far as he could remember no tourists or dive parties had ever been left behind in Fiji.
He said he was aware that the tourists in this incident were shocked, but sometimes divers would resurface in different locations and the boats would pick them up one by one.
Tourist operator Captain Cook Cruises Fiji has been operating in the nation for more than three decades.