Sad and angry...
Jon Schneiderman - PADI MSDT/Liveaboard Captain
October 12, 2002 at 10:33:13
I am still saddened but mostly angered by the way this episode was handled and continues to play itself out. From the way the captain responded to the impending storm, to the paltry sums awarded to families of the victims involved this incident incident reeks of greed, incompetence,recklessness and dishonesty.
I have lived and worked on the same liveaboard for over seven years, serving as the vessel's master for the past 18 months. It gives me a unique perspective on this tragedy.
There are several points I would like to make.
1. The vessel's master should have ultimate authority over the vessel. While the corporate office should have input over day to day vessel operations, it is ultimately the captain who should decide when to halt or interupt a charter due to safety reasons. I have had many close brushes with hurricanes and other major storms. Thank God our corporate office encourages our captains to use our judgement when passenger/vessel safety is at risk. The week of the Wave Dancer tragedy our vessel was operating in the Bahamas and experiencing 10'+ seas. While unpopular, I elected to put our vessel in Freeport harbor for two days until the seas subsided. Many guests complained, but our corporate office stood behind my decision 100%. Interestingly enough, when a guest returned to the boat with a newspaper detailing the events at Big Creek, EVERY guest thanked me for deciding to put into port. While the company did end up giving vouchers to guests for future cruises, it was far better to spend a couple of days inport vesus having someone seriously injured trying to dive in unfavoracle conditions.
2. The guests should have been placed ashore. While crew may be experienced enough to "ride out" a storm, guests should be placed ashore in temporary shelter. I realize that hindsight is 20-20, but it is ALWAYS better to err on the side of caution. My understanding is that the guests on the Dancer were offered shelter in Independence by the mayor, but the captain convinced the guests to stay on board. While this alternative may have been scary to the guests, it would have been safer.It might have been scary, there might have been minor injuries and inconveniences, but no one would have died. I lived through Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, FL huddled in my dining room. I couldn't imagine being on a boat in those conditions.
3. I am very angered that the Captain threatened to fire any Belizeans who left the vessel. We have a number of Belizean crewmembers on our vessel and I've come to realize that liveaboard jobs in Belize are some of the best job opportunites available to Belizeans. To force crewmembers to choose between their highly prized job and their personal safety borders on a criminal if not a breach in ethics.
4. The Belizean government cannot be trusted with an investigation. While I love the country of Belize and its people, the government is inept. Simple processes like getting work permits, cruising permits, and permission to install and maintain moorings take months of fighting government bureacracy. They cannot be relied upon with something as technical as this type of investigation. Besides, the liveaboard industry contributes greatly to their economy. What motive would they have to report the truth?
5. The financial compensation to victim's families is not enough. I recently read somewhere that Peter Hughes did a great job of hiding their assets and the sums awarded to victim's families was negligible. It is a sad indictment of our civil legal system when juries award more for a slip-and fall accident then they do fo the negligent loss of human life.
I sincerely hope that Peter Hughes has learned from the horrendous mistakes made in this travesty and that all efforts are made to make liveaboard diving a safer experience. To the families of the victims, my heartfelt condolences. I still grieve for the loss of these fellow divers.