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July 2008    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 23, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Baani Adventure’s Lethal Air Compressor

from the July, 2008 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While it is rare these days for divers to be killed by carbon monoxide poisoning, a tragedy on the Baani Adventure shows it is a threat, especially in Third World countries. A Russian diver died, two Maldivian diving instructors were hospitalized and eight other divers had to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning in their tanks provided by the liveaboard. They were floating unconscious after a morning dive at Raydhigaa Thila reef on May 22 but according to another diver on board, the problems had started from the beginning of the trip.

Lee Findlay, a New Zealand divemaster on board as a guest, told Undercurrent that he noted several divers and one dive guide had experienced headaches in the two preceding days. The day before the accident, the dive guide had requested a filter change on the two compressors used to fill tanks, but that obviously did nothing.

Ten divers started the fatal dive. After 37 minutes, Findlay’s dive buddy rushed to the surface, saying she couldn’t breathe. When Findlay surfaced, he found most of the divers and the two guides semi-conscious or unconscious. The single bottle of oxygen on the dhoni didn’t work. While a diver did CPR on the unconscious Russian diver, 41-year-old Roman Rudakov, four crew just stood by watching. “None of the crew on either boat appeared to have any training in emergency first aid,” Findlay said. “They were completely overwhelmed by the situation.” He tried CPR on Rudakov for 35 minutes but got no response. He believes Rudakov was made unconscious by the bad air while he surfaced, and drowned while floating face down in the water.

Tests found most tanks contained carbon monoxide levels of 80 parts per million -- the maximum safe level for diving is 15 ppm. Air in Rudakov’s tank measured 150 ppm but because that was the maximum level on the testing apparatus, the actual level may have been higher.

Police said a crack in the air pipe leading to the Bauer compressor was poorly mended with duct tape, allowing contamination to enter, probably in the form of engine exhaust. They arrested the 21-year-old man responsible for filling divers’ tanks. “But it’s the owners who should be held to account rather than this young guy, who no doubt got inadequate training,” says Findlay. Other divers told Maldives newspaper Mini Van News that they discovered Touring Maldives, Baani Adventure’s operator, failed to use a carbon monoxide filter recommended by Bauer when compressors are used in conjunction with an engine. When Undercurrent contacted Maldives Liveaboards, the Adventure’s owner, booking operator Gundi Holm replied that the boat’s two compressors were serviced by MA Services Male the day before the cruise started, and both compressors were reported to be working fine.

The glaring light on the Adventure’s lack of first-aid knowledge, plus the fact that the country has no regulatory body for diving safety, made the Maldives tourism bureau organize a dive safety seminar for the local dive operators. It also plans to inspect equipment on all boats.

Maldives Liveaboards says it will start checking boats regularly, and it plans crew training in first-aid courses, compressor handling and emergency management. But Holm says it’s difficult to get well-trained crew in Maldives. “Restrictions on foreign work permits don’t allow us to bring more educated crew from abroad.” Perhaps, but training implemented by dive operators themselves is long overdue.

Holm says divers concerned about doing a trip on that boat or the Baani Explorer can cancel their bookings without any fees, and Maldives Liveaboards will refund those who already paid in full.

The Centers for Disease Control lists the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide as headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses.

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