Thursday, August 13, 2009

Deaths hurt Australian dive industry

A scene from the film Open Water.

Dive deaths killing off local industry
Marissa Calligeros
August 12, 2009

North Queensland dive tour operators say the recurring headline "dive death" is partly to blame for killing off the local industry.

Although the state's tourism industry is flagging generally, operators are adamant no sector has the odds stacked against it like the diving trade, which has declined 30 per cent in the past 12 months.

Already hurting from the economic downturn and rising fuel costs, worldwide publicity surrounding high-profile fatalities has continued to punish Queensland's dive industry.

The release of the film Open Water, which was loosely based on the disappearance of divers Thomas and Eileen Lonergan in waters off Port Douglas in 1998, temporarily reopened wounds six years ago.

Since then the death of honeymooner Tina Watson, left to drown by her husband Gabriel `Gabe' Watson in 2004, attracted international headlines, as did Gabe's court case earlier this year.

Then in May last year Briton Dick Neely and American Alison Dalton made world news after the pair became separated from their Great Barrier Reef dive charter. The couple was plucked from shark-infested ocean waters north of Airlie Beach 19 hours after being reported missing.

Dive tour veteran Monique Matthews of Undersea Explorer, one of two private charter operations to fold in the past nine months, said perpetual sensational media coverage had had a "devastating effect" on small industry players.

"As it does on so many things the media sensationalizes these things to the point of no return... for us anyway," Ms Matthews said.

The liveaboard vessel Undersea Explorer catered for small tour groups, especially couples and professional divers, but folded last year under the weight of increasing overhead expenses. Bad press was the straw that broke the camel's back, Ms Matthews said. "We can't fight the huge media machine," she said. "The Lonergans disappeared more than a decade ago and people still talk about it."

In October 2008, Nimrod Explorer, the second Cairns-based liveaboard catamaran, was sold by its US parent Explorer Ventures to the World Health Organization. The Nimrod catered for up to 20 diving enthusiasts, unlike larger operations which provide tours for as many as 50 people.

The industry is also incensed at coverage of people who die of medical conditions while diving, which can leave businesses struggling to convince tourists scuba diving and snorkeling in Queensland is safe.

One problem was the media was too quick to brand fatal incidents "dive deaths" regardless of the circumstances, Queensland Dive Tourism Association general manager Col McKenzie said. "You can come to Australia and Australia will give you world-quality diving which is very, very safe, but we can't guarantee you won't suffer a heart attack," Mr. McKenzie said.

Last month a 58-year-old American tourist, believed to have suffered a heart attack, was pulled unconscious from the water while snorkeling at Saxon Reef, north-east of Cairns. He later died. The man had been part of a group tour operated by the Cairns-based Down Under Dive and was scuba diving with a group of people about 10.25am before resurfacing to go snorkeling.

A spokesman for the Maritime Union of Australia said there had been two deaths involving the North Queensland dive industry in the past 12 months.

Personal comment: I understand the problems of dealing with a rapacious media. But the stories of a couple (the Lonergans) being left in the ocean by their dive boat and a bride being drowned by her husband on their honeymoon and Dick Neely and Alison Dalton, who fortunately were recovered after being left in the ocean, are the stuff of legend and probably will be talked about by anyone interested in recreational diving until the end of time. The dive operators are right though that they get tagged with the deaths of physically unfit people who want to dive and aren’t able to take the stress of the sport. That’s why we require a full physical before teaching dive-sex at St Lucy’s and for pool bungalow guests using casino resources for dive sex.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if a lot of the tragedies are due to unfit people trying diving. I think it's more carelessness (in the Lonergans' and Neely and Dalton's cases) of either the divers themselves or their groups that they got left behind. As far as the Watsons, it's likely some kind of psychotic or pathologic episode, where Gabe wanted something out of Tina.


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I'm a classically trained dancer and SAB grad. A Dance Captain and go-to girl overseeing high-roller entertainment for a major casino/resort