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Did dreaded Bali ‘washing machine’ take women divers?

February 18, 2014 Destination ASEAN, Headline News No Comments Email Email

egtmedia59Five members of an all-female scuba diving tourist expedition were found alive last night after the team of seven women vanished into the ocean off Bali on Friday. Disturbing reports are now surfacing about the sinister reputation of the area in which they were diving.

The seven divers were feared drowned, but in a dramatic turnaround, five were last night rescued more than three days after going missing. They had all disappeared into the sea together near Nusa Penida, an island close to Bali’s south-east coast.

Local police said the group began an afternoon dive in Nusa Penida’s Crystal Bay mangrove area in rough seas and went down together. They failed to surface and seemed to have vanished without trace until rescuers found five of them, weak but still clinging to a coral reef off the island. The search continues for their two companions.

In August 2012, police closed the same area after the deaths of two tourists in separate incidents within days of each other.

A local dive operator warned of “powerful and wild undercurrents” on Nusa Penida Island, which he compared to a washing machine surging beneath the sea. FIS-250x250

In the latest incident, police said the seven women – five tourists and two instructors – left Bali on Friday morning after renting a boat from the beach town of Sanur.

The divers, all Japanese, were said to be highly experienced, having each completed at least 50 dive trips previously. The two instructors were based locally and knew the area. They went down and obviously got into serious trouble. The survivors will eventually be able to tell the tale.

After the drownings in 2012, police closed Crystal Bay beach indefinitely and urged diving operators to stop bringing divers there, the Jakarta Post reported.

Crystal Bay is known for crystal-clear waters, coral beds and visits by spectacular Mola Mola (oceanic sunfish) about 30 metres down. But the bay is also reputed to have a strong and unpredictable downward current, which can drag divers further below to their doom.

In the 2012 tragedy, two tourists, a Japanese woman and a highly experienced Danish male diver, died on separate dives.

Japanese tourist Ai Tanaka, 34, was among a group of tourists diving at Crystal Bay. Only 12 divers surfaced and Tanaka, the 13th, disappeared. Her body was found next day.

The following day, Danish diver Hendrik Kent Jensen, 43, was diving with friends. A former dive instructor for Bali Dive Centre, Jensen disappeared in similar circumstances. He was found dead and floating, though friends and witnesses insisted currents and weather were normal.

The Jakarta Post says the waters of Nusa Penida are known for treacherous currents and diving accidents.

Back in 2012, the paper quoted seasoned diver and boat skipper Nusa Lembongan, then 40, who worked 16 years with the Bali Diving Academy before establishing his own business.

Lembongan spoke of wild undercurrents that drag divers down at paralysing speed or hurl them to the surface.

“It is like being spun inside a washing machine,” Lembongan warned – adding a curious tidbit of local advice: the most dangerous days for diving in Crystal Bay are mangda ping sanga, the ninth day after the full moon, and the ninth day after the new moon.

That wasn’t the case in the most recent disappearance – the full moon has just passed.

Some comments posted by Global Travel Media readers after our story on the 2012 drownings seemed to show that the message about Nusa Penida was getting through.

Ange and Josh wrote:

We are currently in Nusa Penida and we are very upset and scared by this. We are new divers and completed our open water referrals on bali 2wks ago from sanur. our 2nd two open water dives were at crystal bay, we thought the site was amazing and couldnt wait to get back here to dive more. since we’ve returned we’ve found out about this and only by looking at the stories on the internet have found out about the dangers of the area. we were not made aware of this by the dive operator in sanur and now feel very lucky things didnt go wrong. We went back to crystal bay on a snorkel trip and found the channel between nusa penida and lembongan to have whirlpoool currents. our boat man was good & abandoned the trip to manta point because of crazy waves and we then attempted crystal bay. we had stopped for no more than 5minutes when the waves in the bay became ridiculous and the trip was abandoned. there were quite a few dive operators in thew bay that day, some of whom seemed to realise and surfaced as we were leaving. this was two days ago and the moon is still pretty full with crazy seas, the bay can’t have been shut for too long. 

RIP to those who lost their lives and please try to make as many people as possible aware of the dangers of this place as there seems to be little communication about it when you’re here. we will not be diving nusa penida again at least until we’re much more experienced.     

Bill wrote:

I visited Nusa Lembongan a few weeks ago. We were there on Sat and Sunday. On Monday and Tuesday they had back to back deaths during diving. We snorkeled Topayka wall, mangrove point, and a few other locations.

These waters are not for new divers. Even as a snorkeler some of the spots we visited had really strong currents. We did a snorkeling tour with a Danish couple and I was shocked to hear that the girl had just recently been certified and planned to dive Crystal Bay and Manta point. Most of the dives around Penida I would consider advanced diving. Any drift diving should be considered advanced diving as far as I am concerned. When I asked how the currents were for some of the snorkeling spots the only question I got was “Can you swim?”.

Some of the dive companies on Lembongan seem to have a better safety ethic than others. I would not trust my life to any of them to be honest though.

Written by : Peter Needham

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