UPDATE: 1.20pm The Maritime Union of Australia has called for the immediate formation of an “audit squad” to inspect pearling vessels across northern Australia for safety and training compliance.Citing “deep concerns” about safety practices by Paspaley, a spokesman said safety divers should immediately be introduced.
Deckhands and skippers should be given appropriate first aid training and better induction courses were needed, he said.
A mandatory requirement for a higher ratio of experienced to trainee divers should also be introduced.
MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray said self-regulation of the industry had not worked and was in desperate need of an overhaul of its practices.
The Pearl Producers Association and pearling company Paspaley have defended the safety record of WA's $200 million pearling industry as the grieving parents of a drift diver demand answers about their son's death.
In April, 22-year-old Jarrod Hampton, a qualified scuba diver from Victoria, died on his second day at work collecting wild pearl shell off the Paspaley 2 vessel at Eighty Mile Beach, south of Broome. He got the job after a three-day induction course in Darwin.
Last night, ABC Four Corners raised concerns about safety procedures and training in the lucrative industry. Investigations continue into Mr Hampton's death.
The program claimed Mr Hampton was dragged behind the boat for up to 20 minutes after surfacing in distress.
Fellow divers told the ABC they were not taught how to remove unconscious divers from the water and there was no stand-by diver - an Australian standard but optional for the pearling industry.
The ABC said 10 experienced divers quit Paspaley last year after the firm refused to raise its price per shell from $3.50. It used to be $4.50.
Former head diver Mick Case said he was disgusted but not surprised when he heard Mr Hampton had died. Another diver, Jarrad Norton, claimed he had warned the company someone could die because of a lack of experience.
Sam Morton, head diver on the vessel when Mr Hampton died, said five of the eight divers aboard had been new.
Mr Morton said on his second day working underwater, Mr Hampton dropped his weighted work line twice and became disoriented, swimming past the boat and needing help. He also allegedly told a crew member he almost drowned.
His father, Tony Hampton, said he was told that when his son surfaced on his eighth dive he was yelling for help but the skipper slowed only slightly as he called the divers up. Mr Hampton was eventually dragged on deck by crew who unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate him after he was spotted facedown in the water with a mask full of bubbles. There was no defibrillator on the boat.
Tony Hampton said he and his wife wanted an "open, frank investigation" and a coronial inquest to protect other divers. "In view of the fact the industry self-regulates, are their safety procedures and protocols good enough? That's what we'd like to know," he said.Both Paspaley and Pearl Producers Association spokesman Brett McCallum rejected allegations that the industry was failing to meet safety standards or compromising divers’ safety.
Mr McCallum said the pearling industry had a very strong safety record and pointed out that Mr Hampton’s was the first drift diving fatality in more than two decades.
A Paspaley spokesman said Mr Hampton’s loss was a “terrible tragedy” and the first death since the company had started operations in the 1960s.“Paspaley has fully cooperated with the relevant authorities … until they deliver their findings and recommendations, it is not appropriate for anyone to speculate on the cause of the fatality or its relationship with the industry’s safety measures,” he said.
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