Underwater World Singapore admits to safety lapses following diver's death

Wan Ting Koh
·Senior Reporter
·3-min read
Stingray in reef tank at Underwater World Singapore. (PHOTO: Court documents)
Stingray in reef tank at Underwater World Singapore. (PHOTO: Court documents)

SINGAPORE — Underwater World Singapore (UWS) has pleaded guilty to safety lapses following the death of a diver who was stung by a stingray at the now-defunct Sentosa attraction.

The oceanarium closed its doors to visitors on 26 June 2016 before its lease ended to facilitate the transfer of its marine animals.

Head diver Philip Chan Kum Weng died on 4 October 2016 after he was stung in the chest by the stingray while he was ushering it into a net. As part of operations to vacate the premises, the net was used to transfer the ray to a holding tank.

On Thursday (14 January), a company representative admitted to failing to take measures necessary to ensure the safety and health of its employees, by failing to provide an adequate risk assessment and safe work procedures, failing to provide supervision and lookout for divers performing vacuuming and feeding works, failing to provide adequate recovery procedures in an emergency during diving operations, and failing to implement a system to document checks on the diving equipment before use.

UWS had appointed Chan, who had 25 years of experience, to plan and execute the transferring of marine animals before and after it had ceased operations.

Chan adopted the “typical method” of capturing marine animals, then briefed workers on the risks and precautions to be taken.

However, investigations revealed that UWS did not document safe procedures for capturing marine animals, which was undertaken by Chan, who would decide on the allocation of manpower, equipment needed, the risks involved and precaution needed.

The risks and the appropriate control measures of capturing marine animals were not documented within UWS's risk assessment.

There was also inadequate supervision of diving work, with no proper lookout maintained while divers performed vacuum works in tanks.

During feeding period, there would be a lack of communication channel between the diver and the worker at the surface, with the worker at the surface only observing the air bubble trail to ensure that the diver was breathing properly.

There was also inadequate recovery procedure, as no there were no divers on standby. Should a diver lose consciousness during an emergency situation, he would not be picked up by a buddy immediately, as there was no line of sight or any lifeline provided, a Ministry of Manpower prosecutor told the court, adding that a rescue would not be prompt as there was no lookout on the diver.

The Ministry of Manpower also found that there was no system or checklist for pre-diving equipment checks.

The prosecution sought a fine of $150,000 while the firm’s lawyer sought a fine of $40,000.

The firm’s lawyer, Ian Lim, pointed out that the charge that UWS faced was not related to Chan’s death, and that the prosecution was not saying that UWS’s workplace failings resulted in his death.

Lim cited mitigating factors in UWS’s favour, including how it had fully cooperated with authorities, and how it had taken steps to remedy its deficiencies. Lim also pointed out UWS’s clean safety record in the 30 years of its operations.

District Judge Adam Nakhoda adjourned sentencing to 25 January.

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