Strong currents likely led to snorkeller’s drowning near Sisters' Islands: State Coroner

·Senior Reporter
·3 min read
Sisters' islands on the south of Singapore's mainland.
Sisters' islands on the south of Singapore's mainland. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A leisure snorkeller whose body was pulled from the ocean two days after he went missing while snorkelling near the Sisters' Islands last December had likely been pulled out to the open seas by strong currents. 

Antoni, 41, who went by one name, had not been wearing a life jacket when he had gone snorkelling alone at the big lagoon at Sisters’ Islands on the morning of 6 December last year. 

His death was pronounced to be an unfortunate misadventure by the State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam in findings made available on Wednesday (19 May).

Antoni, his wife, and their two children had gone to the Sisters' Islands earlier that day together with the wife's brother, the latter's wife and their three children.

When the two families arrived at Sisters' Islands, they set up their picnic baskets on the beach while Antoni went into the water of the small lagoon to snorkel with the children. He returned a short while later and said he was going to the bigger lagoon alone to snorkel to see more marine life, according to findings. 

He donned a swimsuit and had his snorkel, but had no life jacket. 

An hour after Antoni left for the bigger lagoon, his wife realised he had not returned. She alerted her brother who went with her to search for him. 

When Antoni was still nowhere to be found, the Police Coast Guard, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Maritime Port Authority were alerted. 

The authorities commenced a search at 4pm but did not manage to find Antoni.

His body was only sighted on 8 December, at about 5.25pm, floating at sea off the Sisters' Islands at an area where vessels travelled frequently. The body, which was in a severe state of decomposition, was recovered and he was pronounced dead at 5.45pm. 

Antoni's identity was established through fingerprint analysis. 

An autopsy report certified the cause of death as consistent with drowning. His nasal bone was fractured, while his shin and calf bones sustained open fractures. These could have been caused by propellers of a passing vessel after Antoni had drowned. 

According to an eyewitness, the waters of the big lagoon were choppy and strong with under currents on the morning of the incident. He said he saw someone at the far end of the big lagoon swimming alone towards the mouth of the lagoon, which faces the open sea. 

In her testimony, Antoni's wife said she was unsure of her husband's swimming ability and that the last time that she had seen him swim and snorkel was some 12 years ago. 

Her husband had told her a day before the fatal incident that he wanted to go snorkelling again. They went to a store to purchase a snorkel for him but did not buy a life vest. 

The family decided to go snorkelling at Sisters’ Islands after reading online that it was a good place for the activity, and that there were many corals in the area. However, the family was unaware of the tidal stream and the undersea currents near the islands. 

His wife added that Antoni had no known medical conditions. 

Delivering the findings, SC Ponnampalam said, "It is likely that (Antoni) was pulled out into the open seas where he would have encountered even stronger tidal stream caused by the commercial vessels plying the fairways." 

She added that leisure snorkelers must always be cognisant of their surroundings and safeguard against potential dangers. 

"Snorkelling in choppy waters or when the currents are strong is ill-advised, especially so for an inexperienced snorkeler. Beginner snorkellers should don a life vest or a flotation aid for buoyancy. They should also pay heed to the signages and carefully select a spot which is safe for their snorkelling activity," she said. 

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