Captain Cook Cruises dive charter takes terrifying turn for Newcastle mum and her sons

A Newcastle woman says an Australian cruise company should have been better prepared for adverse weather after a holiday scuba dive in Fiji almost ended in disaster when a dive boat disappeared.

When Justine Clark and her sons Felix, 18, and Max, 20, surfaced from an offshore dive in Fiji on August 14, their dive boat was nowhere to be seen.

A diver with more than 30 years’ experience, Ms Clark had booked an afternoon dive at an offshore site called The Supermarket.

Their dive party included an English tourist and the divemaster, who worked for Viti Water Sports, a company subcontracted by Captain Cook Cruises.

On the way to the dive site the weather had deteriorated, but the party pushed on.

“We traveled into an approaching storm and out in open waters in what appeared to be a large channel about 20 kilometers from any island,” Ms Clark said.

After a regulation drift dive of about 40 minutes, she surfaced with her eldest son.

“No tender boat was visible on surfacing, the swell was two meters, it was dark with gray clouds and high wind,” Ms Clark said.

She said their divemaster was next to the surface.

“He was shocked at the events and stated this had never happened in his 27 years of diving,” Ms Clark said.

A small boat full of divers.
The tender boat that took the dive party out to the site.(Supplied: Justine Clark)

Garbage collector to the rescue

The divemaster advised the group to start swimming for an island they could see in the distance.

“I can’t impress how concerned I was for everyone’s health, sharks and the sense of determination I had to reach the island in a calm manner,” Ms Clark said.

“The maternal drive in me was something I had not felt since the birth of my first son.”

After about 50 minutes, the divemaster yelled that a small boat was traveling toward the group.

He advised the divers to inflate their surface marker buoys in a bid to be seen.

A cruise ship anchored in front of a tropical island.
The Captain Cook cruise vessel anchored in Fiji.(Supplied: Justine Clark)

The group’s savior was a garbage collector who had been picking up rubbish in the ocean.

He had noticed the tip of one of the diver’s buoys.

“We were all smiles and I was blowing a kiss to the Fijian who saved us,” Ms Clark said.

Soon after, the tender boat driver motored over to the group.

“He apologised and told me he was so scared and he had radioed the captain that he lost us,” Ms Clark said.

In a written response to the ABC, Captain Cook Cruises explained that the tender boat had blown away from the dive site and that surface conditions made it difficult for the operator to follow the divers’ bubbles.

The company said the situation was unprecedented and that a full internal review had been undertaken, resulting in “already tight” safety procedures being changed.

“I think it’s really important operators are prepared for those situations that may be rare but can still occur,” Ms Clark said.


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