S'pore diver rescued after 20 hours at sea

Adrift in the chilly waters off Malaysia's Tioman island, it was a long 20 hours for Singaporean Hu Jin Jie, 25, after he lost sight of his dive boat last Saturday afternoon.

Thankfully, he was rescued - along with five other divers - by a passing tugboat after drifting about 25 nautical miles (46km) from their dive site.

Speaking to my paper over the phone from Tioman, he said: "I'm grateful that we don't have to spend a second night in the cold water.

"I want to thank the coast guard and the tugboat crew that saved us," said Mr Hu, an auditor. The other people rescued are Malaysians Yang Jia Xing, 26, Leong Li Kar, 26, Lim Kong Hoo, 27, and Maggie Lim, 27, and Chinese national Xu Zhiming, 33.

Mr Hu and six friends were staying at Salang, a village on the north of Tioman island, a popular diving spot among Singaporeans.

They left Tioman with a dive instructor at about 9am last Saturday morning and headed for the dive site, Pulau Chebeh, he added.

The seventh member of the group, who lost the rest underwater, raised the alarm.

Due to a misunderstanding, the alarm was raised while the six were still diving, AFP quoted Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) officer Syed Mohamad Fuzi as saying.

When the rest of the divers resurfaced, the boat had left to get help, and they drifted away with the current.

MMEA Captain Ab Aziz Idrus said that a search and rescue operation was started at 4.15pm last Saturday, but had to be postponed at 7.30pm due to poor visibility, before continuing at 7am yesterday, according to Bernama.

An officer from the Malaysian marine police told my paper that at around 10.30am yesterday, the six divers were spotted by the crew of the tugboat Kencana Makmur. The tugboat was on its way to Indonesia from Terengganu, Malaysia.

The marine police picked the divers up from the tugboat and they reached Tioman at about 3pm yesterday.

The officer, who did not give his name, added that the divers were visibly tired, but a medical check-up showed they were fine, except for minor bruises.

The divers then returned to their accommodation in Salang and were due to return to the mainland last night.

Despite the daunting circumstances, Mr Hu and his friends remained calm and collected during their ordeal.

When the group of six surfaced around 2pm last Saturday, their dive boat was nowhere in sight, Mr Hu said.

However, they were not overly worried. Mr Hu said: "It's quite normal not to see your boat around, they could be picking up other people."

It was only after they had waited more than half an hour that they realised something was amiss. The group then tried to swim to land, but soon gave up as the currents were too strong. Still, they retained their cool and tried to attract the attention of passing vessels by waving orange surface-marker buoys.

When asked if he was scared while they were adrift, Mr Hu said: "None of us panicked, we were all calm."

He added: "It's not something within our control. So when a passing ship did not see us, we just chased the next ship that came along."

nggwen@sph.com.sg


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