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September 2011    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 37, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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American Left Not Far Behind by an Australian Dive Boat

from the September, 2011 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

It's one thing to be left in the ocean by your dive boat treading water with no land in sight, like the cautionary Open Water tale of Tom and Eileen Lonergan. It's quite another when you're on a snorkeling trip and the boats are never far from shore. But Ian Cole, a tourist from Michigan who visited Australia this summer, doesn't see the difference - - and he told his "harrowing" tale to multiple media outlets.

While snorkeling Michaelmas Bay near Cairns in late June, Cole lifted his head out of the water and realized his boat, Passions of Paradise, had left without him. He told the Cairns Post that he panicked at first, taking in water through his snorkel. "But I was able to calm myself a bit, because there was another boat still out there, and I made my way to that vessel. Lucky it was there because, otherwise, I might have drowned. I did not handle the situation well, and I was tired." The people on the boat told him Passions of Paradise had left 15 minutes prior, and radioed for the boat to come back. Apparently, the person responsible for checking off Cole's name on the manifest had mistakenly done so without seeing him get back aboard.

Cole demanded an apology and a change of procedure from the company so it does not happen again. Instead, he received a form letter with a $200 gift certificate for fine dining and wines. "I thought that was such an insult," Cole later told Chicago's ABC news affiliate. "I actually went to the mayor and asked if she could give it to a local aboriginal family and make sure it got put to good use."

While it's not good to leave your passengers behind, Cole wouldn't be the first diver or snorkeler who had to make an easy swim to shore. (I've seen it myself off of Little Cayman.) That's why Col McKenzie, executive officer of the Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators, says Cole is making a mountain out of a molehill. He told that the tour operator fired the employee who bungled the headcount, but Cole was never at any risk. With other boats and the shoreline close by, his ordeal was no worse than "being left behind at a beach." "The fact that this guy talked about this shows he's just seeking self-exposure, and wants to be portrayed as a hero, a survivor," McKenzie said.

But with Open Water drilled into so many Americans' heads when they hear about divers and the Great Barrier Reef, there remains no excuse for a boat crew failing a headcount and leaving a snorkeler behind - - even if he can kick to the next boat or to shore.

- - Ben Davison

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