The Professional Diving Schools Association has questioned why a diving training expert was not appointed to assist in the inquiry into the death of Christine Gauci, as it expressed concern over a court judgment finding her buddy partially responsible for the tragedy.
Arthur Castillo was last week found criminally responsible for her death through negligence while they were diving together off Gozo in 2020. The court also acknowledged Gauci’s contributory negligence to the incident.
The obvious lack of an expert in diver training and procedures raises serious questions and concerns- Professional Diving Schools Association
The association noted that typically a magistrate appoints specific experts to determine the merits of a case on grounds the court may not be familiar with. In this case, however, an expert in diver training was not appointed.
It noted that two experts were appointed in this case, a scuba diving equipment specialist and a hyperbaric doctor.
“The obvious lack of an expert in diver training and procedures raises serious questions and concerns,” the association said, adding the case itself raised “unanswered questions”.
Recreational or technical dive?
The proceedings appeared to fail to distinguish whether the incident took place during a recreational or a technical dive.
The safety and training procedures for the two were very different, the association explained.
Recreational diving was based on procedures involving a minimum of two people but technical diving had much stricter protocols in which the diver was taught to be “100 per cent self-reliant”.
Technical divers were trained to be responsible for their own equipment and dive plan and never to place themselves in danger.
If all safety procedures and protocols were followed correctly, a buddy in either a recreational or a technical dive could never be held responsible for the other diver, as was the case in other outdoor pursuits.
“The type of equipment used and the fact that this was a dive with decompression does suggest this was a technical dive. Ms Gauci and her buddy both held technical diving qualifications. They would have therefore been trained to be self-reliant,” it said.
“The case evidence states that Ms Gauci’s dry suit malfunctioned at the start of the dive. Self-reliant divers are trained to abort the dive immediately in the event of equipment malfunction.”
Suitably qualified experts needed
Referring to the case of Stephen Martin, the association said it was important that suitably qualified experts were appointed when it came to scuba diving court cases.
In 2015 Martin, a British scuba instructor, was charged with the involuntary homicide of his girlfriend and one of his friends during a diving trip to Malta. All charges were subsequently dropped against him and the deaths were ruled an accident.
The association said it would be following Castillo’s appeal and was prepared to assist the court in its capacity.
Following the judgment last week, divers expressed concern that the buddy system – intended to improve safety during a dive – would be abandoned because divers might fear the possibility of being found criminally negligent if something went wrong with their partner.