Five diver deaths in recent months were the result of “unfortunate, unrelated accidents”, the Professional Diving Schools Association suspects.
On June 13, a 61-year-old German man became the fifth diver to die in Maltese waters since April, after he suffered a suspected heart attack off Xwejni in Gozo.
The other divers who died this year were also foreigners, three of them over 60.
Although the causes of death in the five instances have not been made public, at least three were attributed to cardiac problems at the time.
The association feels this does not indicate a need for more stringent medical checks. “Four of the five unfortunate divers who died had a medical (certificate) issued by a doctor, not just a self-assessment that is the industry norm in Europe and worldwide,” association chairman Simon Sciberras said.
Under regulations passed in 2010, those frequenting Maltese dive centres must complete a medical questionnaire endorsed by the World Recreational Scuba Training Council before diving.
If any response suggests a medical problem, a doctor’s examination is then required.
Mr Sciberras noted the diving fatality rate over recent years was low (two deaths in 2011 and two the year before).
“Operational standards have improved since 2010 regulations were launched, so the PDSA stands behind its opinion that these (recent deaths) seem to be unfortunate, unrelated accidents that could not have been foreseen and prevented,” Mr Sciberras said.
“The average age of divers has increased, so the possibility of medical episodes in the sea has also increased and, statistically, will continue to do so.”
dive tourists visited Malta last year
The PDSA criticised the Health Department for failing to provide it with basic information on diving accidents occuring in Maltese waters.
“In order to modify procedures to reduce the likelihood of incidents, we first need to know the cause of the accidents. But, over the past 10 to 15 years, repeated requests for the Health Department to provide us with basic information on diving accidents have been completely ignored,” Mr Sciberras said.
The PDSA’s only sources of information about accidents are the diving centre concerned (if any) and the media.
In the UK, the British Sub Aqua Club and the Professional Association of Diving Instructors publishes analysis of all diving/snorkelling accidents, accompanied by recommendations for improvements.
The PDSA would like to do the same here but all parties involved – from the coastguard, to hospitals and courts – would need to supply basic information.
Local dive centres are licensed and monitored by the Malta Tourism Authority. No dive centres failed MTA inspections last year, according to the PDSA.
Malta has forged a strong reputation as a world-class diving destination, with 73,770 dive tourists visiting the island last year, up from 64,300 in 2010, and the MTA is projecting a slight increase this year.
The MTA argues that an increase in visitors did not make an increase in diving casualties inevitable.
“The good press that the Maltese islands regularly receive from influential international dive magazines and publications attests to the fact that standards here are, at the least, satisfactory and conform to stringent criteria,” an MTA spokesman said.
The police were asked whether charges had been brought against any diving centres in relation to the deaths of divers in recent years but no replies were forthcoming by the time of writing.
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