Experts say a special agency is needed to regulate scuba diving activities

File photo shows a diving program for children with special needs in Setiu on November 5, 2018. – Bernama Photo

KUALA LUMPUR (April 14): As dive operators received bookings and prepared to welcome locals and foreigners alike to Malaysia’s world-class dive sites, a tragic incident cast a veil over the industry.

On April 9, four foreign divers went missing while diving in the waters of Pulau Tokong Sanggol, near Mersing in Johor. Three of them were eventually found and rescued, but the fourth diver is believed to have died.

The incident received wide coverage both inside and outside Malaysia. He even compelled the Sultan of Johor, Sultan Ibrahim Almarhum Sultan Iskandar, to order the temporary suspension of all diving activities in Mersing pending a review of safety measures and diving rules and regulations.

Professional scuba diving instructors contacted by Bernama viewed the incident with deep concern, saying that although not typical, the situation requires the serious attention of authorities as it was not the first time. that divers were disappearing or dying while diving in Malaysia.

One of them, Dr. Samir Muhazzab Amin, who is an instructor certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), proposed that a specific agency or body be created within the competent ministry to regulate diving activities and monitor the registration of diving centers. and instructors.

No specific regulation, regulatory body

He said that although few cases of missing and deceased divers have occurred at Malaysian dive sites, such incidents can nonetheless impact dive center operators as the public would perceive diving as a sport at risk.

“In fact, this tragedy may have tarnished our country’s image as a diving paradise, and it has come at a bad time for our tourism industry, which is still struggling to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Samir Muhazzab, who is also Deputy Director of Counselling, Community Networking and Development at Universiti Putra Malaysia Sports Academy.

He also described the Johor ruler’s order to review diving rules and regulations as timely, acknowledging that while Malaysia is renowned for its dive sites and has earned some RM1.5 billion from the industry so far in April 2017, the truth is that diving activities in this country “are not well regulated and managed while diving equipment and boats are not properly maintained”.

Samir Muhazzab, a diving instructor for 10 years, said the situation was worrying due to the lack of clear regulations to regulate scuba diving activities in Malaysia. The industry, he stressed, must be regulated to keep divers safe and prevent future disasters.

“The reason why I say it is not well managed is that to date Malaysia does not yet have a special agency or body with clear regulations to oversee scuba diving activities. Therefore, when an unpleasant or unfortunate situation arises, all the agencies point fingers at each other,” he said.

He said the lack of a dedicated agency to regulate scuba diving activities will also make it easier to open dive centers without possessing the necessary accreditation and licenses.

“We are concerned that tourists will use the services of these unaccredited dive operators. This is why it is necessary to have an appropriate agency (to oversee diving operations) that can act as a reference platform for those who wish to obtain advice on diving, identify registered diving centers and use the services of certified diving instructors,” he said. , adding that the lack of a regulatory body allows problematic instructors to remain in the industry even after being terminated for misconduct, as there are currently no rules in place to prevent them from being recertified as instructors. instructors by other scuba diving associations.

Foreign instructors

Samir Muhazzab also said that the absence of a regulatory body has led foreign diving instructors to offer their services in this country.

“Take me, for example…I’m a scuba diving instructor but I can’t teach (diving) in Australia because there are specific regulations to govern the industry locally, but a scuba diving instructor trained from Australia can come to Malaysia and work here as they are not required to fulfill any local requirements to become a scuba diving instructor in Malaysia,” he said.

He claimed that many foreign instructors use the social visit pass to enter Malaysia and work as diving instructors.

Samir Muhazzab also said that currently divers are not required to report the dive location they wish to explore, which he added can put them at risk.

He said it was crucial to flag the dive site to ensure the area they wanted to explore was safe. It will also facilitate rescue operations in case of emergency.

Muhammad Fajrul Omar Muhamad Ridzuan, who is also a PADI certified instructor, stressed the importance of using the services of certified instructors and boatmen so that they can help divers in case of any problem.

He said instructors and boat operators must be licensed to carry out scuba diving activities because the risks faced by divers are not the same as those faced by divers.

“Perhaps the government can establish standard operating procedures (SOPs) for boatmen to follow to help divers facing danger,” he said, adding that diving is safer than other activities. extreme sports and rarely results in death or serious injury.

His view was shared by Mohd Dalila Mansor, a Rebreather Association of International Divers (RAID) Instructor Examiner with over 25 years of experience in the field.

Mohd Dalila said diving is not only safe but also a fun activity provided divers are disciplined and adhere to the necessary SOPs, the most important being pre-dive preparations which include inspecting their equipment for s ensure they are working properly and attend a briefing on dive site conditions.

Dive safely

“During the briefing, divers will be reminded of safety risks and how to navigate through the (water) current, as well as what to do in the event of air starvation. They are also told what types of fish are considered as dangerous and safety measures to take if they are separated from their ‘buddy’,” he said.

Mohd Dalila said that in diving, the emphasis is on the buddy system as it allows a diver to stay close to another diver during a diving expedition. The diver and his buddy can constantly monitor each other and provide immediate assistance if necessary.

He said if a diver loses sight of his buddy, the first thing he should do is observe his surroundings for a minute or two. If his buddy is still not visible, he should come to the surface of the water and inflate his buoyancy control device, which can help him stay afloat for up to 12 hours.

“While floating on the surface, the diver must blow his whistle which can be heard up to 200 meters to attract the attention of the boatman.

“This is why it is crucial and essential that the boatman stays where he drops off the divers. The boatman should not wander elsewhere and should observe the conditions at the dive site, including weather and strong currents,” he explained.

He pointed out that in diving, it is absolutely crucial that the dive center, the boatman, the instructor and the divers communicate with each other.

He also advised those who want to go scuba diving to seek the services of accredited professionals who have in-depth knowledge of the dive site they wish to go to. — Bernama

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