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The MV Dive Asia 1: calls for an inquiry into the sinking

Dive Asia Disaster: Why Public Inquiry is Essential

Sunday, March 22, 2009
Phuketwan urges authorities to act

PHUKETWAN is calling again for an independent public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the MV Dive Asia 1 two weeks ago, with the loss of seven lives.

Confidence in the diving industry on Phuket can only be restored after such tragic loss of life by a full and through public investigation.

Phuketwan reporters have been asking questions about the tragic sinking for a fortnight now. Some answers to the more difficult questions have yet to be forthcoming.

The loss of seven lives on a boat made for tourists should and probably will remain a cause for international alarm and concern until all the answers are known.

Here is a summary of the reasons for an independent investigation.

The Mishap: Why Did a New Boat Sink?
MV DIVE ASIA 1 was launched in October and went to the bottom less than five months later. Phuketwan was told that, as with every locally-built vessel larger than 24 metres, blueprint plans for the boat were submitted and approved before construction began, as regulations require. When we asked to see the blueprint, we were told it was in Bangkok. One obvious characteristic of the boat is its height. Dive boats in and around Phuket have grown taller over the past decade, mostly with the addition of a third level. This has enabled them to carry more passengers without the need to increase the basic dimensions of the vessel. It has also enlarged the profile of these boats, making them more vulnerable in bad weather. Mostly, water and fuel tanks are placed in the bottom of these liveaboard boats. When full, the tanks provide ballast. However, at the conclusion of a long trip, fuel and water are likely to be depleted, with the centre of gravity rising as a consequence.

The Weather: Phuket Can Be Mean
THE WEATHER in and around the Andaman coast can be extremely changeable. At some times of the year, storms seem to arise out of blue skies. As most Phuket motorists know, it is possible to be perfectly dry one minute, absolutely drenched by a tropical downpour the next, then completely dry again on the other side within seconds. The north-easterly that blows across Phang Nga Bay at this time of the year is said to be so vicious that aircraft to and from Phuket divert around it. A regulation north-easterly was certainly causing a few storms in the region on that Sunday night. The route back from the Similan islands to Chalong pier leaves a boat side-on to the north-easterly. Weatherwise, it was also close to the peak of the lunar cycle, when tides are at their highest and waves usually increase in height and strength. Freakish bouts of weather involving severe squalls and high winds are not uncommon around Phuket. Whether the MV Dive Asia 1 was hit by a severe squall or, as some say, a water spout ''vortex'' is almost beside the point: the boat sank, and seven lives were lost. A spokesperson at the local meteorological bureau said they usually only issue warnings for storms above 30 knots, but the storms that evening were below that speed. Speeds of storms are measured, though, on land only. There is a telephone number that seafarers can call to check on prevailing conditions. Calls are rare.

Sinking and Rescue: Why So Sudden? Why So Slow?
SOME concern has been expressed about the speed with which the boat sank, and the speed of the rescue. Survivors say the MV Dive Asia 1 took two minutes to keel over, then in another two minutes, it was gone. Fortunately, the two liferaft were deployed. Although we have yet to learn precisely where the captain and crew were when the storm struck, no alarm was sounded. According to at least one survivor, glass cabin windows gave way quickly, allowing the sea to fill the boat. If the boat did contain an automatic emergency radio beacon designed for just such an emergency, it failed to work. The wreck of the MV Dive Asia 1 was found to be on the bottom of the ocean, about 20 kilometres off Patong, on approximately the route that the boat could have been expected to take back from the Similans to Chalong. With no alarm sounded, it is not surprising that staff from Dive Asia simply went to meet the boat as usual that Sunday at 8am, expecting to find passengers and crew waking up and keen for breakfast. Those missing nine hours from 11pm, when no rescue operation was mounted because no alarm was sounded, are explicable. Less easy to understand are the six daylight hours between when the boat was declared missing and when a Marine Police boat linked up with the survivors, after a telephone call alerted them to the precise location. Where did the searchers go? And why was it so difficult to find two liferaft, bobbing about within sight of Phuket's popular west coast the whole time, on a bright, clear day?

Conclusion: Why an Inquiry is Needed
THE SINKING of the MV Dive Asia 1 has to be investigated thoroughly for one simple reason: if another sinking like this one occurs, Phuket's diving industry is finished. The reasons why the MV Dive Asia 1 went to the bottom have to be clearly established. The reasons why there is and was no weather alert, no matter how ''freakish'' the conditions, have to be clearly established. The reasons why the rescue took so long have to be clearly established. In Bangkok, after the New Year's eve blaze at the Santika pub killed more than 60 people, the authorities acted with speed to ensure that everyone could feel confident and safe again when entering a nightclub. The same kind of due diligence now needs to be displayed by the authorities on Phuket. Tourists need to feel safe on the waters around the island. Dive Asia has a good reputation and its management has acted with professionalism since the sinking. But there are still too many unanswered questions, and too many doubts about safety across the entire diving industry that can only be resolved by a full, independent inquiry. We all need to know the truth.

Phuketwan Dive Boat File


Aussie Dive Survivor Tells: 'I Walked the Walls'
Inquiry Call Phuketwan calls for an independent inquiry into the diving disaster and relates the nightmare experience of one Aussie diver who survived the sinking of the MV Dive Asia 1.
Aussie Dive Survivor Tells: 'I Walked the Walls'

Update: 'Body of Missing Cook' Found at Sea
Dive Boat Latest Cook Jumpa Sorntat was so dedicated to his job on a dive boat that he may have chosen to stay on the sinking vessel at the cost of his life, Phuketwan has learned.
Update: 'Body of Missing Cook' Found at Sea

Boat Sinking Update: Five Bodies Recovered
Boat Sinking Latest Divers have recovered five bodies from inside the sunken MV Dive Asia 1. They have been transported back to Phuket for identification.
Boat Sinking Update: Five Bodies Recovered

Latest: Divers Find Boat Four in Seabed 'Tomb'
Dive Sinking Latest Four of the seven missing dive boat victims have been found still in the boat on the ocean bottom off Phuket. They are believed to be two Austrians and two Swiss.
Latest: Divers Find Boat Four in Seabed 'Tomb'

One Body Found: Search For Survivors Continues
Search Latest One body has been found and six are still missing after a dive boat sank in a savage storm between the Similan islands and Phuket. Navy and marine police boats are scouring the seas.
First Light Sees Search for Survivors Resume

Nightmare at Sea: How a Dive Boat Disappeared
The Boat Vanishes Long a Phuket resident, Jurgen Schenker of Dive Asia grew concerned when a dive boat failed to return to Chalong pier. Here is his first hand account of what happened.
Nightmare at Sea: How a Dive Boat Disappeared

Squall Tipped Boat Without Warning: Survivor
Dive Boat Drama Survivors reached port in Phuket this afternoon to relate their accounts of the sinking of a dive boat in the dark. But seven, named below, are still missing.
Squall Tipped Boat Without Warning: Survivor

Storm Sinks Similans Dive Boat: Seven Missing
Dive Boat Sinking A storm off the Similan islands sank a dive boat last night. The boat included Australians, Austrians, Germans, Swedes, Japanese and Thais. Seven are unaccounted for.
Storm Sinks Similans Dive Boat: Seven Missing

Comments

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I applaud Phuketwan's call for an investigation, but don't hold my breath. There are many factors that need looking at, as outlined in your article. Boat design and safety equipment need looking at. One way might be for the insuring company to have strict checks in place before they insure a boat. If all Thai insurers followed the same procedures, then standards might be improved. The insurance companies have a vested interest in this ! The plans need looking at by a qualified naval architect and the building of the boats needs checking periodically.
Safety equipment - quite cheap actually. A quick trawl around Google for Thai dive boats showed every single one, without exception, saying their safety equipment included a mobile phone and VHF radio. This is the minimum equipment i would expect to see in a private pleasure craft sailing in coastal waters. A motor yacht being run as a business, and taking to the open sees (i.e. out of sight of land) needs more. In my view, EPIRBS, which deploy automatically, need to be fitted to all such vessels. They cost from 10,000 baht (ten thousand baht) which is not a lot of money really, is it?
It's not the cost, it's the regulations that need tightening.

Good luck with your call for a public inquiry.Let's hope it will not be covered up.

Posted by Mr Mann on March 23, 2009 08:14

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Thank you very much, Mr Mann!
I hope that if repeatedly requested, an internationally recognized investigation will be started and the results made public. This is not only in the interest of the company in question, but first of all the potential tourists who want to enjoy their holidays in beautiful Asia, and not be delivered back home in a coffin.

Posted by Michael Beer on March 23, 2009 09:45

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Was the boat actually expected back at 8am - news reports (including a video of an interview with Dive Asia CD) appear to suggest it was expected back several hours earlier yet no alarm was raised when the boat failed to arrive at Chalong. If this is the case, why?
Editor: The usual arrangement was for the boat to arrive back at Chalong in the middle of the night (1am or 2am) with sleeping passengers only roused for breakfast around 8am. There was no concern about the weather or the boat, so the normal procedure was followed. Chalong does not have a 'harbormaster' system to monitor movements and issue weather warnings. With no alarm from the boat, the vessel's disappearance only became obvious when Dive Asia staff arrived at the pier as scheduled, around 8am.

Posted by francis light on March 25, 2009 03:21

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It is plain to see that we all need an independent inquiry into this accident . . . yes, accident. This will be to put all rumors and hearsay to rest and offer plans and contingencies to stave off another tragic sinking, with further loss of life.
The responsible authorities would do well to listen to cries for an independent inquiry, please.

Posted by Graham on March 25, 2009 14:53

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Nobody is interested in a full investigation of the cause(s) of this liveaboard dive vessel sinking because it would damage the dive industry in the Andaman Sea and show the poor performance of the Harbour Department.
Only an official complaint in court will bring to light what most of involved parties want to hide.
The survivors or relatives of the victims are the ones who may help, through legal processes, to improve the safety of everyone on the seas in Thai waters.

Posted by The Whistle Blower on March 26, 2009 11:25

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I partly agree. But it is - IF at all - a public issue. Therefore the public prosecutors of those countries where the victims came from should get active.
What did the embassies of those countries do so far?

Posted by Michael Beer on March 28, 2009 15:52

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Showed someone how to be punctual for meetings like in the west, but the victims and families were not on his agenda. So sad he had forgotten them already ???

Posted by Graham on March 28, 2009 18:51

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Graham, any information, is there an investigation going on? Thank you

Posted by Michael Beer on May 7, 2009 15:22

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2 months passed since a very good friend of mine died in this accident . I have - as some other - demanded a public inquiry (under participation of international independend maritime experts) and publication of the results. So far, I could not find any information neither in Thai nor in other international media. Is it correct, that Baht 200.000 baht was offered by an insurance company to the relatives of the victims?
Should anybody know about this issue, please, respond.
Dr. Michael Beer, 2500 Baden, Austria

Posted by Michael Beer on May 8, 2009 07:44

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Hello Michael, sorry to report that I have heard no further news nor information as to the inquiry in this tragic accident.I believe that the families can get in touch with Dive Asia and I read recently that the Chefs family has been paid the 200 000.00 Baht. Hope that sheds a bit more light for you?

Posted by Graham on May 8, 2009 13:07


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