Questions raised over Ċirkewwa tragedy that claimed diver’s life – Times of Malta

Share this post on:

Questions have arisen on the wisdom of forging ahead with an ill-fated dive that claimed the life of a diver amid inclement weather conditions.

On Tuesday a 45-year-old man from the Netherlands died after he and a group of 17 other divers encountered difficulties and had to be rescued from the Rożi dive site in Ċirkewwa, at around 1.20pm.

Only four of the divers managed to pull themselves to shore, while the rest were recovered following a search and rescue operation by the Civil Protection Department and the Armed Forces of Malta.

The tragedy has rocked the Maltese diving community, with some questioning why those involved in leading the divers chose to persist despite the difficult weather conditions they eventually found themselves in.

Conditions during the search and rescue operation.

The windy weather on Tuesday, which in the afternoon ranged from force six up to force nine in exposed areas, prompted the Met Office to issue a yellow weather warning at 1 pm.

However, earlier on Tuesday morning, at 10.30am, the Met Office predicted that wind would blow from the south-southwest at force five, veering southwest at force six. It was at the time expected to become force two to three in the evening and force three to four overnight.

Media who were on the scene in Ċirkewwa on Tuesday spotted some of the rescued divers handling equipment in boxes labelled as belonging to a St Julian’s dive centre called Divewise Malta.

When contacted by Times of Malta, a Divewise employee did not confirm or deny whether any of their employees were involved in the incident.

However, when asked if they had any further information about the incident the person answering the phone said: “We already gave statements to the police”.

Emergency workers at the scene. Photo: Chris Sant FournierEmergency workers at the scene. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Divers who spoke to Times of Malta expressed frustration that the dive leaders went ahead with their plans to descend on the Rożi in these conditions.

Raniero Borg, who has been diving for close to 40 years and frequently organises underwater cleanups, said that in any dive, safety is the paramount condition on whether the dive begins or not.

“I think the dive leader should have taken responsibility, evaluated the potential of danger and said no because there were strong gusts and the sea was gobbling everywhere up,” Borg said.

“I understand that when people travel with the expectation to dive there are time constraints, but if the sea is not good, then it isn’t good.”

An Armed Forces of Malta helicopter was deployed. Photo: Chris Sant FournierAn Armed Forces of Malta helicopter was deployed. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

A senior PADI instructor who works full-time in the industry said that while it is possible that the weather could have changed quickly while the divers were already in the water, the area where the incident happened is known for being difficult to climb back from in rough weather.

“I personally would not have taken a group down in those conditions,” he said.

“Up to force three, maybe force four, I would do that dive in Ċirkewwa, but anything higher than that I would have picked somewhere else. It’s better to leave with a disappointed diver than a dead diver.”

The diver also expressed frustration that the results of magisterial inquiries in incidents such as this one are kept under wraps unless a case actually makes it to court, which makes it hard for the industry to improve after such tragedies.

Gozo ferry operations were stopped during the search and rescue operation.Gozo ferry operations were stopped during the search and rescue operation.

“It’s unfortunate that when something like this happens the first instinct is to sweep everything under the rug, and we only hear bits and pieces of what happened through the grapevine. We have to have the opportunity to learn from any mistakes that may have been made,” he said.

Another person, who dives frequently as part of their profession, explained that the current, rather than the strong wind churning the seas, could have been responsible for creating the difficulty in returning to shore.

“Ċirkewwa is known for strong currents that keep pushing you back making it virtually impossible to swim back to shore and this is something that can turn up very quickly, so it could be that it was not predictable,” he said.

“I have experienced it on dives there myself and the only way I made it back was because we had an underwater scooter. It’s not exactly an easy dive for beginners, there’s a bit of a swim, and if you know the area is prone to strong currents, maybe have a plan B.”

Share this post on: