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Current Upwellings

Last updated August 9, 2000

The Latest Dive News

Update on Fiji, Solomons and Sipadan
Shark Fights in Tonga
Hurricane Forecast: Still not good
Florida Divers Adrift
Hurricanes aplenty this year?
American Airlines discount if you act quickly
Fiji coup update
Sipadan hostages still in the Philippines
Big trouble in the Solomons
Bonaire's hidden crime
Dangers Update
Shark Poaching in Revillagigedos
Solomon Islands Warning
Sipadan Abductions Update
Sipadan Abductions (May 2)
Some Dive Safety Issues and More
And a Cheap Dive Light
Sea & Sea Strobe Recall
Orca Update

Update on Fiji, Solomons and Sipadan Situations August 9, 2000

While the coup in Fiji is over and most of the supporters are under control, it has not been bloodless. Several people have died. On Tuesday, Fijian rebels killed two soldiers and wounded three others while they were investigating shots fired at a local ethnic Indian family.Indian citizens were systematically terrorized in several areas, some were captured and held hostage. Some had their homes burned to the ground. When Fijian rebels took over Forbes Island (Laucala) they threw the manager to the ground and broke his wrist. Two commercial pilots were held hostage in Savu Savu, and an Air New Zealand flight on the way to Auckland had to turn around after receiving a bomb threat. Several resorts have closed their doors; some may never open again. To keep his resort open, the owner of Turtle Island paid $10,000 to villages that claimed they still had ownership rights. While the perpetrator, George Speight, will probably be tried for treason. While divers who have visited Fiji since the coup report no problems other than driving past a roadblock or two, tourists have stayed away in droves; 38,000 visited Fiji in June 1999, 12,000 in June 2000. 6900 Fijians have lost their jobs.

Diving in the Solomon Islands remains shut down as the turmoil there continues. As evidence of the threat, local men hijacked a Japanese fishing boat in Marovo Lagoon

Sipadan Update: several of the workers -- including divemaster Vincent Kwong -- and one of the diver hostages taken in the raid on Malaysia's Sipadan Island by Philippine terrorists was released. Fourteen hostages still remain in captivity with no end in sight.

Shark Fights in Tonga August 7, 2000

In Tonga waters in July, a 69-year-old New Zealand resident named Christian suffered an attack by what he said was a grey Galapagos shark. "A big chunk was taken out, plus deep gashes down to the bone and more on top of the hand. Unfortunately, some flesh is missing... and there's some gashes and injuries where I tried to fight it off and hit it with my right hand," he said. After treatment on a New Zealand naval ship, he learned the good news. Navy divers retrieved his watch, bitten off his wrist by the shark. "The guys found it in 60 feet of water. The shark spat it out," the ship's commander reported.

Hurricane Forecast: still not good August 7, 2000

Just because a hurricane hasn't hit the Caribbean yet, don't be fooled. Hurricane forecaster William Gray has cut his early prediction, but still foresees 11 named storms, seven hurricanes, and three major hurricanes, thanks to a weakening La Nina. Gray says the hurricane action will likely begin around August 20 and continue for the next 60 days.

Florida Divers Adrift August 7, 2000

A couple of Florida divers survived thirty hours adrift after their boat broke loose from its mooring on July 19, suffering no more than dehydration and sunburn. After they failed to return home, the wife of one called the Coast Guard, which found them late the next afternoon.

Hurricanes aplenty this year? June 28, 2000

Hurricane season in the Caribbean, Mexico and the U.S., just got rougher, says hurricane expert William Gray and his colleagues at Colorado State University. They have increased their prediction for the season, which runs June 1 though Nov. 30, to twelve named storms, eight hurricanes and four major hurricanes that will have winds of at least 110 mph. They are attributing the revision to La Nina, a cooling weather pattern over Pacific Ocean waters near the equator. Colorado State's 1999 forecast -- 14 named storms, nine hurricanes and four major hurricanes -- was one of the more accurate in recent years, as 12 named storms, eight hurricanes and five major hurricanes were recorded last year. While the whole of the Caribbean can be affected by hurricanes, they tend to take routes north of Barbados, through the Bahamas to the north and the Yucatan peninsula to the west.

American Airlines discount if you act quickly June 28, 2000

Which, is probably why American Airlines is offering a 40 percent discount on seven-day-in-advance midweek excursions to Dominica, Tortola, St. Kitts, and St. Maarten. Hurry, you've only got a day to decide; you have to purchase your tickets by midnight, June 30 and must complete your travel by September 30

Fiji coup update June 28, 2000

Failing to reach an agreement with coup leader George Speigh, a failed businessman, the Fijian military announced Wednesday that it is prepared to form a government and prepare to rule for two years. Some resorts, such as Forbes Island, have closed, while others are barely running. While returning travelers cite few if any problems, travelers are staying away as the economy slows dramatically.

Sipadan hostages still in the Philippines June 28, 2000

While Philippine Muslims have released one hostage (Zulkarnain Blu Hasing, a Malaysian) taken from dive resorts on Sipadan, Malaysia, in May, twenty (both diving tourists and island staff) remain in custody. Negotiations continue with the Philippine government. Meanwhile, Sipadan is open for business.

Big trouble in the Solomons June 28, 2000

In the Solomon Islands, several divers were "trapped" for days in their hotels while fighting continued in the streets of Honiara. It may be months before the islands open to divers. The Aggressor Fleet has canceled all trips for the remainder of 2000.

Bonaire's hidden crime June 28, 2000

We have reported about crime against tourists on the island of Bonaire - and the seeming disinterest by officials to do much about it - while Bonaire officials and the Bonaire tourist industry continue to flounder in deep denial about crime. They had better listen up now as 4000 residents -- about half the island -- took to the streets Monday, June 26 to demand that someone -- the central government in Curacao or the Netherlands itself-- do something about the spate of crimes. The march was spurred by the execution style deaths of two Bonaire citizens, killed in their home, Sunday June 18. The size of the march was equivalent to 125 million people marching in Washington. You can see photos of the march at http://www.nettech.an/CrimeMarch

Dangers Update June 7, 2000

While the diving paradise of Sipadan remains open and, apparently, well protected, the twenty-one divers and staff kidnapped from Sipadan several weeks ago are still in custody of Muslim terrorists in the Philippines. Negotiations continue to be non-productive, leading some captives to threaten hunger strikes and even suicide. It's a tragic situation.

Tourists continue to travel to Fiji, ignoring the coup. International flights land in Nadi, about 90 miles from Suva, the heart of the coup. In some locales, native Fijians are hassling Indian citizens, but none of this has spread to tourists. The U.S. and other nations have issued strongly worded travel advisories, resulting in a hotel cancellation rate has high as sixty percent. If you're traveling to Fiji keep in mind what happened during the previous coup more than a decade ago: the airport was closed for more than a week, stranding tourists.

In the Solomon Islands on Monday, June 5, rebels captured the prime minister and set up roadblocks throughout the capital city of Honiara, home port to the Bilikiki and other live-aboards. Yesterday we received reports that fighting has broken out around the airport in Honiara. The governments of several countries, including the U.S., urge their citizens to avoid the Solomons. While citizens of foreign countries have not been targeted, it is not a safe place to travel.

Papua New Guinea is another dangerous area; if traveling there and you want to unwind a day or two, bypass Port Moresby entirely by staying at nearby Loloata Island resort, --where there's excellent diving. They'll pick you up at the airport and deliver you after your stay. Any travel agent can arrange it.

If you're planning to dive the Caribbean this summer, be aware that a monster hurricane season is predicted. Bonaire, once considered hurricane proof, took a hit from hurricane-generated waves last year, destroying docks and damaging a large percentage of shallow coral. The Caymans, Belize, the Turks and Caicos, even Saba are susceptible to big hits. Keep your eye on the weather map.

Sharks and Mantas Poached in Mexico's Revillagigedo Archipelago June 7, 2000

Hundreds of sharks and even a few mantas were poached in early May from the San Benedicto Island in Mexico's Revillagigedo Archipelago, a marine park 200 miles south of Cabo San Lucas. Divers aboard two live-aboards, the Solmar V and the Seawatch, filmed the nets at work underwater and promptly reported the action to Mexican authorities. While the fishing no doubt affected the marine life, divers on subsequent visits still report big fish action.

Solomon Islands Warning May 19, 2000

If you're thinking about going to the Solomon Islands anytime soon, or know someone who is, you should be aware of the following information provided by the US State Dept. We all hope the situation will not deteriorate further in this truly world-class diving area.

-------------------------

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Office of the Spokesman

Solomon Islands

May 17, 2000

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to defer travel to Guadalcanal Island in the Solomon Islands, due to an increase in ethnic unrest. The Solomon Islands' government has stated that it cannot guarantee the safety of the capital, Honiara, which is located on the main island of Guadalcanal. In view of this information, the U.S. Embassy suggests that U.S. citizens resident in Honiara reassess their personal security and consider the advisability of temporarily departing the city until the situation improves. The international airport outside Honiara remains open at this time.

Solomon Islands' security forces so far have not responded successfully to militant activities on Guadalcanal. In the past months, there has been an escalation of armed incidents between militant factions in Honiara and areas adjacent to the international airport. Armed militant groups maintain roadblocks outside Honiara and there has been at least one incident in which a civilian vehicle has come under fire on Guadalcanal Island.

There have been acts of lawlessness and sporadic armed incidents since 1999 throughout Guadalcanal. In March 2000, there were confrontations between police and militants in Honiara. No expatriates were hurt. Violence has not targeted American citizens, although in one 1999 incident outside Honiara, several expatriates were detained and threatened before being released unharmed.

The potential for continued escalation of militant activities remains high in and around Honiara. However, there is no evidence that conditions on Guadalcanal have spread to other provinces in the Solomon Islands.

For further general information on travel to the Solomon Islands, consult the Department's latest Consular Information Sheet for the Solomon Islands.

*****************

This Public Announcement supersedes the March 17, 2000 Public Announcement on the Solomon Islands and expires on August 18, 2000.

Department of State travel information and publications are available at Internet address: http://travel.state.gov. U.S. travelers may hear recorded information by calling the Department of State in Washington, D.C. at 202-647-5225 from their touchtone telephone, or receive information by automated telefax by dialing 202-647-3000 from their fax machine.

 

Sipadan Abductions Update May 11,2000

We just received this word from Clement of Borneo Divers on Sipadan:

Hello Friends of Borneo Divers all over the world:

I am Clement from Borneo Divers and a lot of you may have by now heard and read a lot of news on TV, CNN and papers lately about the unfortunate abduction of 21 people from Sipadan, the island all of you have been.

The 21 pax included 10 guests from our fellow dive operator resort (PSR) along with 4 of their staff. Borneo Divers staff Rambo ( as many of you would stilll remember), 1 from SDC, 4 wildlife rangers and one off duty policeman were taken forcefully from Sipadan on 23rd April night.

This incident is very difficult for us to stomach for the fact that we (Borneo Divers) have been there for the last 15 years and nothing close to this have occured. This is the first ever happened in Sipadan.

HOwever, the Sipadan is back to normal as far as diving is concerned and the last week end was the Japanese Golden Week were full with the 80 divers (the restriction by authority now only allow 80 divers to be on the island and 20 are allowed to dive from Mabul ).....

The top priority is the safe return of the hostages for now.

There are a lot of conflicting news in the media regarding the hostages lately and Let me update you on Sipadan as of today -5th May 2000.

The 21 hostages taken from Sipadan are alive and seen on a local video footage as announced by Nur Misuari. This was aired on TV 3 in Malaysia last night and Misuari told our Minister in PM Department ( YB Pandikar) that the hideout of the hostages have been moved from the original hut where CNN captured the footage 3 days ago.

The encounter between the rebels and military was NOT an attack by the Phillipines but rather a 'chance encounter"...

The rebels claimed that 2 hostages died ( one by stray bullet and the other by heart attack) are NOT true. All 21 are alive....

Even their claim that they have beheaded 2 hostages on the other group of 27 hostages of school children is not true either as you may have now read in news that all have been accounted for , although this time in the rescue 4 of them were dead......

For that reason Malaysia has strongly impressed upon Phillipines NOT to use force and the important thing is the safe return of the 21 people taken forcefully from Sipadan....

Here in Sabah, we are constantly in touch with Rambo (Borneo Divers staff) wife and we fully understand the trauma she is going through now. But such confirmation of the good news was immediately conveyed to her......and we have been counselling her through visits and phone contact....

At the same time, I have been in contact with PSR as well. They are fellow operator on the island and 10 of their guests and 4 of their staff were abducted, this is real nightmare. We talk few times a day.

For some local news, the police reported this morning that they have arrested a man (foreigner) who supplied the 2 jongkongs (boats) to the abductors and these 2 jongkongs were hurriedly made. Along with that, 9 other people ( all foreigner) were also taken days ago in connection with the abduction.......how can you bite the hands that feed ????

These are some of th update I have for you...

Regards

clement

Sipadan Abductions May 2, 2000

Diving the paradises of Southeast Asia now has an extreme danger element added with the abduction of 10 tourist divers and 11 staff from the Malaysian Island of Sipadan, offshore from southeastern Sabah state on the island of Borneo. The Muslim terrorists have sequestered the hostages in the hills of Jolo, in the Southern Philippines, but they are far from safe. Officials aren't clear about the full demands of the Abu Sayyaf terrorists, but they may include a 2.5 million-dollar ransom (which has been rejected) and the protection of ancestral fishing grounds. They have threatened to behead two people if the demands aren't met.

The hostages were taken by six heavily armed gunmen in camouflage uniforms on April 25. After robbing other tourists on the 30-acre island, they traveled by boat to the southern Philippines about an hour away. Two Americans, James and Mary Murphy (Rochester New York) escaped the captors by first refusing to swim to their boat then hiding the in trees. The abducted tourists, who were staying at Pulau Sipadan resort, were from France, Germany, South Africa, Finland and Lebanon. The staff abducted include Roland Ullah, Ken Fong Yin Ken, Kau Yo Loong, and Vincent Kwong.

Two separate groups are fighting for an independent Islamic Nation in the southern Philippines. The second group holds many more hostages, including school children, and wants to swap them for Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the 1993 world trade center bombing in New York.

Before the abduction, Undercurrent reader Ricky Tuss had been diving Sipadan by boat from the nearby Sea Ventures Dive Resort, about 300 yards off Mabul. He said "Mabul had a much larger contingent of police than did Sipadan, so we were safer, but it makes you wonder. We dived Sipadan the morning after the abduction before we (the guests) knew of the event. I couldn't understand why there were so few dive boats nor why the people on the island were staring at us. We did the last dives allowed before Sipadan was shut down for diving. We had two Malaysian gun boats guarding us the next night."

Nine Italian divers staying at Abdillah Sipadan Resort, who were not abducted, dived the day after the aduction and remained on the island for several days. While there have been a few cancellations, with increased security the resorts have remained open and busy. On May 2, 103 Japanese divers passed through Malaysian customs before heading to Sipadan.

The U.S. State Department has issued a warning to anyone traveling in the area, saying they should "review security procedures, remain vigilant of their surroundings, keep a low profile, and vary routes and times of required travel. U.S. citizens should register with the Embassy in Kuala Lumpur: (60) (3) 2168-5000 or KLCONSULAR@STATE.GOV. The State Department has issued a similar warning for the western part of Mindanao Island in the Philippines and tells citizens to avoid travel to the provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, in the Sulu Archipelago in the extreme southwest of the Philippines. That would also include avoiding liveaboard dive boat travel in the Sulu Sea.

For complete state department travel warnings go to www.travel.state.gov/travel_warnings.html.

To keep up to date on the hostage crisis, go to www.energyzone.co.za/strydom

-- Ben Davison

Some Dive Safety Issues and More April 3, 2000

As a consumer publication, we try to keep you abreast of news that others often call "negative" and "not supportive of the industry."

But our loyalty is to divers, not the industry. Here are some serious incidents that caused deaths and that divers need to keep in mind for their own safety.

We've been writing about how those downcurrents in Cozumel kill divers. Keep them in mind wherever you travel. In early March, seven New Zealand sport divers got sucked down to nearly 300 feet, three died and another was bent. In reviewing accident data for 25 years, we suspect that downcurrents are the single most significant undewater safety hazard and divers have to recognize them early and get out.

Just after we published an indepth article on the dangers of filling aluminum tanks and possible faults with the tanks, in mid March a Key Largo Dive shop owner, William Gordon, lost his leg when an aluminum tank he was filling exploded.

Two-thirds of all shark attacks in the world occur in North American waters, at least that was the case in 1999. Florida, recorded 25, five were reported in Hawaii, two each in California, Georgia and South Carolina, and one in Virginia, Mexico and the Bahamas. Surfers are the No. 1 shark victims, representing 43 percent of all 1999 attacks. Swimmers accounted for 38 percent and divers 11 percent. Body surfers, kayakers, air and sea disaster victims, and those who simply jumped into the water each accounted for 2 percent. For more info, go to the shark attack file at www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fish/Sharks/ISAF/ISAF.htm

On a lighter note, it's going to be easier than ever for East Coasters to get to Grand Cayman. Look for Continental to begin nonstop flights from Newark before the end of the year.

-- Ben Davison, publisher

And a Cheap Dive Light March 2, 2000

Thanks to subscriber Tom Daly for a tip that may save us a few bucks. He reports that he's located an identical light to the 3 "C" cell Pelican dive light, catalog #2000c, and its replacement bulbs (which retail for $36.95 and $13.95, respectively, at his local dive shop) at - who would have thunk it - Home Depot. He reports that it's being marketed there as the HubbelLite Flashlight 3003-C - at half the cost. Home Depot sells the HubbelLite for $18.95 and its replacement bulb for $8.97, which, as Daly notes, is "quite a cost savings." We thank him for divulging a secret he says he's "been saving for fear that if it got out, the price would go up."

Sea & Sea Strobe Recall November 24, 1999

Sea & Sea Underwater Photography is recalling about 7,000 strobe lights because of two incidents in which the strobes exploded due to internal gas buildup. The recall covers all model YS-50 strobes and any YS-60 or YS-120 strobes whose serial numbers begin with 96 or 94. The serial numbers are printed inside the yellow, black, or orange plastic housing. Recalled strobes were manufactured between February 1988 and March 1999.

Both strobe explosions occurred after the lights were flooded, when an internal gas buildup either caused the front and back sections to be torn apart or ejected the battery cap from the unit. One exploding strobe caused facial cuts in a Japanese strobe owner, and a Caribbean repair technician received a chipped tooth. The Consumer Product Safety Commission requested that consumers stop using the strobes, and any strobe that displays corrosion or becomes inoperative should be returned to an authorized Sea & Sea repair center. Sea & Sea will send consumers a free replacement battery cap that will prevent gas buildup.

For more information about the recall or repair center locations, call Sea & Sea at 800-732-7977 between 9 and 5 PST Monday through Friday.

Orca Update June 9, 1999

It hasn't been that many years since you could look around a dive boat between dives and see divers who were wracking their brains, desperately trying to recall how to work surface intervals into repetitive nitrogen times. They didn't want to let on, of course, that they didn't have a clue about how to go about it, but they were easily recognizable by their hunched positions as they bent over their tiny plastic tables, praying for inspiration.

Then, in 1983, Orca Industries introduced the Edge, and multilevel diving and dive computers were in. I jumped on the bandwagon immediately. Sure, the unit had a few weak links: the battery compartment flooded too often and it ate 9-volt batteries the way a kid eats candy, but it was easy to use, and the increased bottom time made the $675 price tag look reasonable. Hell, it was more than reasonable: it was wonderful. It changed diving.

Within a few years of the Edge's introduction, technological developments and a multitude of other manufacturers reduced dive computers' size from the Edge's hefty 1.6 pounds down to wrist models and console inserts. The reduction prompted some sardonic postings on online scuba groups suggesting "One Hundred Things to Do with the Brick (Edge)."

Orca developed a smaller, cheaper version, the Skinny Dipper, which was plagued by battery problems, then pioneered the Delphi, an air-integrated unit. Unfortunately, early editions of the Delphi had some problems with the high-pressure sensors that undercut its marketability.

EIT, Inc., an electronics firm based in Virginia, bought Orca in the early nineties and retooled the Skinny Dipper into the Marathon and the Delphi into the Phoenix. They dropped production of the Edge although they continued to service the units. In recent years they added the Pilot, a line of dive computers manufactured for them in Finland.

Now, however, it sounds like EIT has discovered what most of us already knew: the best way to make a small fortune in the dive business is to start with a large one. The company's made a bottom-line decision to effectively get out of the scuba market and concentrate its efforts in the industrial electronics sector.

My hat is off to Karl Huggins, Craig Barshinger, and all of the others who were involved in developing and bringing the original Edge to market. Your development marked a turning point in dive technology, one that revolutionized the way most of us dive today. It's a testimonial to you that I could sell my Edge today for more than I paid for it 16 years ago. Commercial divers who believe in its tested algorithms and appreciate its large display will pay top dollar if they find someone willing to let go of their brick. Sorry to disappoint them, but I'm hanging on to mine to the bitter end, which now doesn't seem to be that far away.

------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------------

The Outlook for Orca Products

Here's where you stand if you own the following Orca products:

EDGE - Edge users can still get service from the Orca Service Center.

Skinny Dipper - If your Skinny Dipper takes a dive, there's no upgrade offered: they're all out of warranty. Although some service is offered at the Service Center, it's limited.

Marathon - If your Marathon is still under warranty, EIT has a few units on hand and can provide a replacement. For out-of-warranty units, there's a $140 charge for a replacement.

Delphi - Generally speaking, the Delphi makes a nice paperweight, although it's possible to obtain some limited service.

Phoenix - Since the last Phoenix units were manufactured 2-1/2 years ago, replacement units are no longer available. Owners can obtain limited service or upgrade to a Pilot for about $200.

Pilot - Orca will offer Pilot units until midsummer; then Benemec OY of Finland, the current manufacturer, will market it in the U.S. under the Orca name. Pilot units still under warranty can be replaced from U.S. stocks until inventories are depleted; after that, replacements must come from Finland.

For repairs, contact: Orca Service Center, 2619 Baltimore Pike, Ste. #2, Oxford, PA 19363. Voice 610-998-1017; fax 610-998-1018.

It's my understanding that the service center is run by a former EIT employee and is not directly connected with EIT. We've heard some complaints about slow service and repair problems in recent months, though all have been resolved. My impression is that the facility is small and understaffed, so I'd allow plenty of time before a scheduled dive trip for any repairs to be completed. I'd also suggest addressing any problems you have as soon as possible, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to stock up on incidentals like battery door gaskets and those little screws for the Edge that always seem to get lost.


Ben Davison



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