Newcastle family recalls Captain Cook Cruises scuba dive charter nightmare on Fiji holiday
An Australian family recalls their harrowing ordeal after being stranded in the middle of the ocean after their charter boat left without them on a dive in Fiji.
Newcastle’s mother Justine Clark, partner Jeremy and her sons Felix, 18, and Max, 20, were on a seven-day cruise of the South Pacific island nation last month when they booked an afternoon dive at The Supermarket – an offshore site.
With 30 years of diving experience behind them, Mrs. Clark and her sons decided to take the excursion led by a divemaster who worked for a company outsourced by Captain Cook Cruises.
She told the harrowing experience to Daily Mail Australia, sharing her story in hopes it never happens again and security procedures are reviewed.
Weather conditions deteriorated as the delicate boat made its way to the dive site and ran into open water in an approaching storm in what appeared to be a large channel 20 km from an island.
After a 40 minute dive, Mrs. Clark resurfaced with her eldest son and saw no sign of the tender boat.
Justine Clark enjoys a Fijian cruise vacation with sons Felix and Max when a diving excursion nearly ended in tragedy
“There was no tender boat visible on the surface, the swell was six feet, it was dark with gray clouds and strong winds,” recalls Mrs. Clark.
The divemaster then resurfaced and was shocked to find the tender boat was gone and told Ms Clark had never happened in his 27 years of diving.
He advised the group to swim to a distant island.
“Because of the distance to the islands, the weather and the fact that it was after school, I was not optimistic that we would have passing ships,” recalls Ms. Clark.
‘I can’t impress how concerned I was for everyone’s health’ [and about] sharks… I had to reach the island in a calm way.
“I knew I was able to swim the 10-15km to the island and that even if I had to drag my boys for a bit, I’d make it to that beach.”
After 40 minutes they noticed a small boat heading their way.
A garbage collector was on board picking up trash on a nearby island when he spotted the tip of one of the diver’s buoys.
The divers were forced to swim to the nearest island after the tender boat (pictured) lost them as they resurfaced from their dive
“We all laughed and I blew a kiss to the Fiji that saved us,” said Mrs. Clark.
Shortly afterwards, the tender boat driver motored to the group and apologized, saying that the cruise captain had heard that he had lost the group.
The cruise boat tender finally approached after we were all on the can. We didn’t change boats and I would have refused anyway because the sea was too rough,” she said.
“We made it back to the cruise ship in the rain and cold wind, but glad we were rescued.”
Ms Clark said the terrifying ordeal affected the rest of their vacation.
“The captain couldn’t explain to me why the tender driver was so far from the dive site or why we were diving in a place so far from the main cruise ship,” she said.
“The captain apologized for the accident and suggested it was an unlikely event.
“The story went round and round and in memory of my vacation, guests came forward to express their concern and regret for what had happened to us.
“That was also unpleasant because I didn’t want to talk about the incident any further.”
Justine Clark said the harrowing ordeal affected the rest of their week-long cruise (cruise ship pictured)
Ms Clark urged Captain Cook Cruises to review its safety procedures.
“I have no desire to harm tourism in the area and the lives of the local Fijians who depend on this trade,” she said.
“However, Captain Cook Cruises should apply safety standards that are consistent for such emergencies at sea in the countries they operate outside of Australia.”
The company reimbursed the family for the diving trip, while the CEO has contacted Ms. Clark directly.
Newcastle’s mum (pictured) shared her ordeal in hopes it would never happen again
“Had it not been for a garbage collector, the safety issues could have led to terrible results. The experience really impacted our holiday and the initial lack of response from the captain and company was discouraging,” said Ms Clark.
“I’m glad the CEO took the time to speak directly to myself about my concerns to ensure that other divers, especially those in my age group, are not at such a risk.”
Daily Mail Australia has contacted Captain Cook Cruise for comment.
Captain Cook Cruises told the ABC in a statement that the tender boat had blown away from the dive site and conditions made it difficult for the operator to follow the divers’ bubbles.
The company added an internal assessment of the ‘unprecedented’ incident that resulted in the adjustment of ‘already tight’ safety procedures.