If there is anything wrong with the leisure diving industry, it’s the way the owners of one business will rejoice when another suffers some sort of disaster. It’s as if their success is relative to the failure of another. Nobody seems to consider that “there, but for the grace of God go I,” nor that the bigger the successes all around, the greater the chance they will gain a meaningful share of it. At the same time, the leisure diving industry is small in comparison to most other industries and everyone knows everyone else. This gives rise to a very effective rumour mill that can end up by being totally misleading.
When I was told that a dive center owner on a remote part of Indonesia was so hated by the locals that his dive operation was burned down, and he was driven off the island, I believed it until I did some on-the-spot research and found that nothing was further from the truth – although there had been a disastrous fire.
Max Ammer is a religious man. I asked him about what happened, and he was quite frank. He told me first-hand he was young and made a stupid mistake. As an outsider had inadvertently dabbled in local politics on the island where he originally was. When the village elders suggested spending a hard won collection of cash on a new church building he had suggested that instead they put in a much-needed village sewage system with the money. He believed that the physical health of the villagers came far behind that of their perceived religious well-being and he later wished he’d kept his ideas to himself. He had offended the leaders. Once his dive center was no more, there was nothing to keep him on that particular island and he set up afresh on Kri instead.
After abandoning ship during a fire on a liveaboard Blue Melody in the Red Sea, the owners asked me if I could ensure the other passengers told no one about the incident. Besides being impractical, it showed a total misjudgement on how to handle the press and public relations after such misfortune. It is better to manage the aftermath of such a crisis by being open and frank about what happened from the outset, and I advised them so. Passengers ended up losing only half a day’s diving and were presented with a cash refund that equalled most of the cost of their trip. Most rebooked further trips with that company.
It’s a well-known adage that worse things happen at sea, and as long as all efforts are made to preserve life, the public is very forgiving. Try to alter the truth and all sense of trust is destroyed. However, the stress of the practical management of a crisis can lead to effective PR being forgotten.
Fires can be a hotbed for rumour. Recently, when Truk Siren ran on the reef during Typhoon Maysak, it was destroyed by a fire that started later. Immediately the rumour mill went into action suggesting the vessel had been torched on the instruction of the owners in order to claim a total loss on the insurance.
Vessel owners do not destroy their livelihoods intentionally, nor do they ever wish their passengers to come to harm. Neither are insurance companies’ beneficent uncles waiting to pay out on a whim. They employ investigators.
It was only when I heard the boat’s owner discussing the difficulty he had with his insurers with another boat owner that I decided to find out what really happened to the Truk Siren and put the record straight. This is what I was told.
The high winds and rough seas of the typhoon drove Truk Siren and other liveaboards up on to the reef. There were no passengers on board at the time, but the crew decided to abandon ship for their own safety and left it just before darkness arrived. Local young men watched them come ashore and took the opportunity to go out to the vessel in their canoes to see if there was anything worth taking. They found the onboard supply of alcohol and partied furiously, consuming in one night the entire ship’s supply. Then, being young men and presumably completely drunk, they vandalised the vessel, smashing everything they could including all the television monitors before defecating in the cabins. They made one mistake – they drew graffiti everywhere and proudly tagged it!
When the crew returned in daylight, they were horrified to see what had been done and reported the incident to the local police. A police investigation was to ensue. Since the local youths had proudly tagged their own homes, it would be easy to identify where each of the perpetrators lived. However, the vessel then mysteriously caught fire, destroying all such evidence. Case closed.
This summer, Worldwide Dive and Sail will be back in Truk with their new Truk Master.