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July 2005 Vol. 31, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Two Thai Live-Aboards Sink

from the July, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Every monsoon season, May 15- November 15, the Similan Islands Park, easily reached from Phuket, Thailand, is closed to visitors. Strong waves, often 6-12 feet high, are too big for small boats and tour boats to operate safely. Everyone, including divers, are told to stay away. Nonetheless, two liveaboard dive boats sank this month, reports the Phuket Gazette.

On June 7, the 80 ft. Bubble Blue, traveling to the Similans, was hit by a 12-ft. wave. The boat capsized and a Bangkok diver went into shock and died. A local fishing boat rescued 18 others. Chris Cruz, who was on the boat, said “The waves kept smashing into the boat. Water was being forced through an air vent near the engine room, and it was causing the boat to list to port. The captain told everyone to move to the starboard side of the boat but suddenly we were in the water.”

On June 7, The Rhapsody was anchored near Richelieu Rock when just after midnight, there was a loud bang. Within six minutes, the boat had sunk. The captain managed to send a Mayday message and release an emergency position beacon, as everyone grabbed life jackets and signaling equipment and jumped overboard. The group, none of whom was injured, tried unsuccessfully to attract the attention of two other dive boats. Thirteen people spent seven hours in the water waiting to be rescued.

We asked Jeroen Deknatel, who runs Ocean Rover Cruises, about the situation.

“June to October the seas are often too rough for the average dive boat, so reputable liveaboard operators do not offer trips in the Andaman Sea. In our case, move to other areas for a few months. A vessel like Ocean Rover can safely navigate the Andaman Sea during the season, but getting divers back on board in those big waves is just too risky, that’s why I don’t do it.

“The level of safety among Phuket’s liveaboards is one of my pet peeves. If Phuket-based dive boats would be based in a western country 9 out of 10 would not be allowed to leave port. Most do not have life rafts, let alone essential safety equipment. In the past few years there have been “mishaps” with half a dozen liveaboards here.

Jeroen added that day trip divers in Phuket can dive all year round but may have to put up with trips cancellations if the seas are too rough that day. Because of the effects of the tsunami he said, “the islands need visitors badly.”

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