Underwater World Singapore fined $105,000 following diver's death

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

SINGAPORE — Underwater World Singapore (UWS) was fined $105,000 on Tuesday (23 March) over safety lapses following the death of its head diver, who was stung by a stingray at its Sentosa premises in 2016.

UWS had closed its doors to visitors on 26 June 2016 before its lease ended to facilitate the transfer of its marine animals. On 4 October 2016, head diver Chan Kum Weng was transferring a stingray into a net when the animal pierced him in the chest. Chan died that day.

Passing the sentence, District Judge Adam Nakhoda noted that there were four breaches and that it was essential to identify the risks and mitigate measures. While Chan was an expert, his expertise was not a substitute for risk assessment and ensuring safe work procedures, the judge added.

Earlier in 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.

The DJ said that it was essential that there were detailed recovery processes such as standby divers to act immediately in the case of emergencies. He added that there was clearly a need for a standardised set of checks and to ensure that equipment used was fit for the purpose.

However, he took into consideration that it was not the case the company had not implemented any safety measures at all.

The prosecution had earlier argued for a fine of $150,000 while UWS' lawyer sought a fine of $40,000.

What actually happened

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' risk assessment.

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

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

There was also inadequate recovery procedure, as 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.

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

For failing to take measures to ensure the safety and health of employees, UWS could have been fined up to $500,000.

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