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March 1999 Vol. 25, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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American Deaths Lead Aussies to Control Diving?

from the March, 1999 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

In the wake of the death of two American divers who were left behind on the Great Barrier Reef by the charter boat Outer Edge, the Australian territory of Queensland is set to fully regulate its dive industry.

While the Queensland government has always exercised some regulatory control over Great Barrier Reef dive operators, proposed regulations will legally force boats to keep safety logs to track divers and post special lookouts devoted solely to watching divers. To get certified in Australia, one must present a statement of medical fitness, but the recommendations would now require all snorkelers and resort divers to sign medical declarations. More government inspectors would also be employed to monitor the safety standards across the state.

The American dive industry has always opposed any government intervention into diving practices, unleashing hordes of lobbyists to explain how voluntary industry self-regulation keeps the sport safe.

But Australian authorities believe that voluntary safety guidelines leave tourist divers at risk and note that, in addition to divers Tom and Eileen Lonergan, 25 other divers died in Queensland waters in the past two years.

Workplace Health and Safety Chairman Clive Bubb said that, while most of the dive industry is run safely, mandatory regulations were needed to tell dive and snorkeling operators “what they must do, rather than should do.” He strongly supported regulation of the industry to make prosecutions easier.

“There are some operators who may not take their obligations seriously and ... if there’s a regulation that’s mandatory and if they fail to do it, then they could be prosecuted, and it could smarten up their act,” he said.

“We want to make sure that people who come to Queensland to dive and to snorkel believe they are getting the safest recreational experience they can get,” he said.

Australian lawyer Rob Davis, who represented the families of dead American divers, welcomed the recommendations calling for mandatory regulation. “If they really want to tighten up the industry, regular checks on certification should be introduced whereby a diver must undertake a specified number of dives each year, must undergo a medical examination every year to remain current, and must take current log books when they want to dive. It’s not an onerous task because, quite simply, people who are not fit and go diving die. They not only put their lives at risk, but also those of their buddies.”

The mood to regulate diving has spread to Western Australia following the deaths of two Japanese women in separate dive accidents in December.

—From AP and Reuters reports

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