The newest wreck dive in the Maldives
I thought I've left all my bad luck behind in the last year but it's not
to be. The year of the Ram started off with a diving trip as always , this
time to the Maldives , living on board as we wanted to dive the more remote
areas . The Discovery One was a handsome boat, 80ft long and only 5 years
old. There were 9 rooms below the deck and 2 on the 1st level. My room was
below the deck right next to the engine room. We did 3 dives the first day
then went to bed early , we were all exhausted as we had been travelling for
more than 12 hours the previous day. At around 2:30 AM I was woken up by a
fellow diver banging on the door . The room was in pitch darkness as the
electricity had been cut off and the moment I opened the door I could smell
smoke . Bare footed and without even my specs I ran out, and by the time I
got to the end of the corridor the stair was already enveloped by smoke. The
boat was on fire ! We scrambled on to the boat we used for diving which was
tied to the main boat , motored to a safe distance and watched helplessly as
the fire took the Discovery One with everything we had with it.
Most of us lost everything : our passports, ID cards, credit cards , cash,
air tickets - everything we brought on the trip. Apart from that we all got
out safe, so maybe it wasn't such bad luck after all.
We made the front page of the newspapers the next day. Apparently we were
the first group of foreign tourists that got caught in a safari boat fire
since the founding of the Republic of Maldives !
The boat company gave us board and lodging in Male and the next few days
went in a blurr of police statements, arrangement with the Chinese Embassy
in Sri Lanka for temporary identity papers for the H.K. immigration dept ,
ringing up credit card companies and airlines, and of course friends and
family in H.K. For the first day I had to walk around town in my bare feet
and not able to see beyond the length of my arm ( severe myopia of -8.5 ) ,
until the manager of a local tour compay took pity on me and gave me a pair
of his spare contact lenses.
It was a weird experience not to possess anything apart from the clothes
on one's back . I didn't even bother to lock the hotel room throughout my
stay in Male : there was nothing to steal ! It also made me realise how
little we actually need to live. There's even a kind of exhilaration not to
have any money on you. If nothing else it was the perfect deterrant for
touts pestering us for a sale, we only need to look at them dolefully and
say " Discovery One survivours " and they'd all back off !
Lessons I've learnt :
1) Always arrange for a fire drill when you're on a boat , if the boat
company doesn't arrange it , arrange one yourself anyway. There's nothing
more deadly on a boat than fire, there's always plenty of fuel on board.
2)When the boat's moored for the night the front of the boat's always in
the direction of the wind , so any smoke there is would be blown to the back
of the boat. As smoke is the most deadly element in a fire , if possible
always try to escape to the front of the boat .
3) Check for emergency exits and life jackets on board. If we didn't have
the diving boat anchered near by we'd all probably end up in the sea and
some of us could have been drowned. I persoanlly don't think I can tread
water for 4 hours until rescue came.
4) Always have a torch handy. We were lucky we went on a night dive
earlier that day and at least one of us took out a torch. In the pitch
darkness in the bowel of the boat it's so easy to get disorientated , if not
for the light from Sam's torch we probably wouldn't be able to get out so
5) Pack all the important documents and money in a small bag and put it
next to your pillow at night, so if anything happens you can just grab it
and run. On looking back we reckon we had less than a minute to clear out
before the smoke would have got us. You definitely would not have time to
get anything from the safety box.
6) Photocopy all your travel documents , credit cards and air tickets and
leave them with family or friend before you leave. We were lucky because we
were such a large group and also 'cos the wife of one of our members works
for a district councillor in H.K. that we received such prompt attention
from the Chinese Foreign Ministry. It'd make things a lot easier for the
immigration dept if you can provide them with the duplicates, and also when
you reapply for the documents.
7) Leave a set of duplicate keys with trusted friends/ family ,
particularly if the whole family goes on the trip together. Most of us lost
all our keys in the fire.
8) One should always get adequate travel insurance on every trip. Read all
the small prints.
9) Find out about the diplomatic links of your home country with the place
of travel, we didn't know China actually doesn't have diplomatic
representation in the Mildives , and the Foreign Ministry had to fly 2
officials out from Sri Lanka , the nearest country to have a Chinese
Embassy, to do our papers.
10) It might be prudent to put a spare pair of glasses in your survival
kit if you're seriously myopic like me. It was most disconcerting to have to
run for your life in the middle of the night blind as a bat !
11) One should put all the important papers in a water proof bag.
If any of you have any other tips on surviving a fire at sea, please drop
me a line.
So goes the story behind the newest wreck dive in the Maldives !