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January 2018    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 44, No. 1   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Misfortune Follows the Siren Fleet

is there something inherently wrong?

from the January, 2018 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Is the Siren fleet of liveaboards jinxed? Fiji Siren is the latest liveaboard in the Siren fleet to sink during a diving voyage. After being driven aground by Cyclone Winston back in February 2016 and successfully recovered, it appears the vessel struck an unseen object in the early hours while under way in Fiji in the Bligh Channel, close to the Namena Reserve, between Vanua Levu and the island of Nakodu.

When it occurred, it evidently didn't sound or feel too serious. Passenger Ross Hoek from Michigan told the Fiji Sun that he was awoken at 1:30 a.m. by the sound of an impact, a single hit, "maybe like a log in the propeller would feel . . . the impact felt small to me." Unconcerned, he went back to sleep.

In fact, the wooden hull was breached close to the engine room. Members of the crew grabbed tanks and immediately dived under the hull in an attempt to stem the flow of water into the hull using epoxy resin. Above, the crew was able to pump out close to four tons of seawater per minute, but they made no real headway against the water flooding in. The captain turned the vessel toward land while making emergency calls from the boat's marine VHF, but they went unanswered.

After an hour, it became clear that the pumps were unable to clear the water faster than it was pouring in, so the passengers were ordered to abandon ship. Simon, the cruise director, asked them to muster in lifejackets with only their passports and any medications they required. The passengers and nonessential crew boarded diving skiffs and reached Namena Island (once Moody's Namena), where they found shelter.

The remaining crew worked feverishly to save the boat. Four-and-a-half hours after the initial impact, the main water pump failed because of water in the engine room, but the fire pumps still functioned at full power, thanks to staff from the Namena Divers, who delivered additional fuel. They and other members of Fiji Siren's crew continued to work underwater to block the hole, but it proved impossible to seal the breach. At 7:15 a.m., all but the captain and the cruise director evacuated. It had become apparent that it was impossible to save the vessel, which slipped beneath the waves around 10:00 a.m., nine hours after the initial impact -- a total loss but at least everyone was safe.

Dive and Travel Adventures had a group on board and posted on their Facebook page: "Could this really be happening, or [is it] just a dream? No, this was real. Captain Jack sincerely apologized, and with a heavy heart gave the order to abandon the Fiji Siren on our dive tenders. No water was in our cabins yet, but it was still coming below. Our wonderful tender drivers, Sy and Mo, took us to the nearby island of Namena. There was an abandoned resort there that had been hit by Cyclone Winston. This resort would be our shelter. There were a few construction workers on the island to assist when we arrived, along with two Fiji Siren crew per tender. Thankfully, everyone was evacuated safely. No one was injured.

After an hour, it became clear that the pumps were unable to clear the water faster than it was pouring in.

"We walked up the hill to a single bure cabin. The crew brought water, food, and bedding for us. They brought in mattresses. We rested for a few hours. It was a beautiful sunrise the next morning! The crew had been busy retrieving much of our dive gear, clothing, and personal items. (They put themselves at risk doing so!) We were very grateful to find a lot of our belongings in big plastic bags on the shore that morning. It was like one big scuba rummage sale, sorting and matching items to owners. There was a large dive boat available around noon to take us to an inhabited island and town of Savu Savu, a little over an hour away. We boarded the boat and headed to our new home at the Hot Spring Hotel."

Mark Shandur, a part owner of the Siren Fleet, told Undercurrent a day after the loss, "As you can imagine, it is extremely disheartening for all of us. Especially, given that the company as a whole, and all of the crew, have put so much time, effort and dedication into making Siren Fleet, in our own opinions, one of the safest fleets to dive with. We really do hone our policies with each incident and run drills for this exact kind of accident on a regular basis.

"As is our modus operandi, we are now super busy ensuring that our clients get the best possible customer service in the aftermath and have been in constant contact with everyone on the ground in order to protect holidays."

Misfortune has dogged the Siren Fleet since its inception. Its first vessel, Sampai Jumpa, sunk off Thailand in 2009 when traveling between Phuket and Koh Tao, after colliding with a ferry at night. One crew member died. The fleet's second vessel, Sampai Jumpa Lagi, was renamed Siren for commercial reasons, and further Siren vessels were built or incorporated into the operation.

"As you can imagine, it is extremely disheartening for all of us."

In 2011, the Mandarin Siren sank after a fire broke out in a tumble drier while it was operating in Raja Ampat. In 2012, the Oriental Siren sank after it hit an unseen object during an ocean crossing to Layang Layang in Malaysia. In 2015, Truk Siren was driven on to the reef by a typhoon and abandoned by its crew. Locals looted and burned it. Only one accident can be attributed to poor seamanship, when Palau Siren was allowed to run aground on a reef, sustaining severe damage, in 2015.

It is unclear what caused the damage to the Fiji Siren. The vessel may have collided with an outlying reef, but there are other possibilities. Lost steel shipping containers that have fallen from freighters tend to float just under the surface. These have caused the demise of many smaller vessels, as well as some larger ones, and represent an ever-growing marine hazard.

Mik Jennings, Siren Sales and Marketing Manager, told Undercurrent, "We don't know for sure what caused the impact yet; hopefully, we'll [eventually] know more. We know for sure that the impact hit the reserve engine prop, which sits off center, and that the subsequent pressure from that pushed the prop shaft and housing in towards the hull. That's the basic cause of the breach. Because of the nature of the hull in that area, it was almost impossible to use most of the breach kit effectively."

So what do you think? Founded by Frank Van der Linde in 2004, Worldwide Dive and Sail owns and operates a range of diving, sailing and cruising yachts across Asia and the Pacific including the Siren Fleet dive liveaboards. Is Siren owner Van der Linde's love affair with wooden-hulled vessels coming to an end? We note that the vessels in his growing fleet of Master liveaboards have steel hulls.

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