On April 29, 1976, after a diver nearly lost his life on SCUBA, the Diving Inspectorate of the Department of Energy issued a Diving Safety Memorandum drawing the attention of the Association of Offshore Diving Contractors (AODC) to the “inherent limitations of SCUBA diving equipment especially when worn with a free mouth piece.”

Incidents have arisen when a diver has been put at risk using SCUBA in marginal weather conditions.  Endurance is limited and good communication difficult to achieve. 

Except in conditions where the use of the surface supply diving equipment makes the diver’s task impossible or more hazardous, the use of SCUBA is not recommended.[1]

Less than two weeks after this memo, Nicholas Hubert and Christopher Dymott died in separate SCUBA accidents on May 12th and 13th respectively: Hubert in Loch Fyne in western Scotland as he was inspecting a gas platform,[2] and Dymott on a tanker loading buoy off the coast of Wales.[3]  While both accidents occurred within territorial waters (and therefore not technically classified as offshore accidents), the Diving Inspectorate was sufficiently disturbed by the back-to-back fatalities to release another warning in June.

Recently 2 diving fatalities have occurred to divers using SCUBA equipment at about 35 metres.  In each case the divers were using equipment fitted with a first stage reducer which not only provides air to the demand valve but also to the suit inflation connection.  

Investigations into the breathing apparatus concerned are being carried out on behalf of the Department of Energy, and any factors that affect diving safety that emerge as a result of these investigations will be published immediately.  Diving companies’ attention is once again drawn to the limitations of SCUBA.[4] 

One month later, tragedy struck again when Comex diver Richard Dupuy was killed, also while diving on SCUBA.  According to DOE Chief Inspector Commander Warner, the Frenchman died in 51 feet of water from cerebral anoxia caused by “equipment design failure.”[5]  Diving with faulty SCUBA equipment, however, was the least of Dupuy’s worries.  When the local prosecutor in Peterhead investigated the accident, he soon discovered that Comex had behaved as though no regulations existed at all: Dupuy had been sent into the water with no lifeline, no communications, and with no standby diver on alert.  Moreover, the company had failed to appoint a supervisor in writing for the job and did not provide plant and equipment necessary for Dupuy’s safe conduct.[6]   

While SCUBA had added another name to the North Sea fatality list, Dupuy’s case has special significance for other reasons because, accordingly, the prosecutor prepared criminal charges against Comex, but then suddenly, and inexplicably, deserted the case.  When reporters asked why, he answered, “I can’t give the reasons for this case being deserted.  They are, however, numerous and complex.”[7] 

It is likely that those numerous and complex reasons had to do with Comex’s subsequent assertion that it was not the employer of the dead man.  Alarmed by what it perceived to be a fundamental flaw in the regulations regarding Dupuy’s employment status, the prosecutor’s office then notified the Department of Energy,[8] with the expectation that London would make the necessary adjustments to the statutes.  But rather than revisit the law to ensure that it was not facilitating an escape route for employers of divers in future incidents, the DOE took no action.  As a consequence, in due time, a company called Infabco Diving Services would simply follow the footprints left behind by Comex.

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Endnotes:

1  Department of Energy, Diving Safety Memorandum 9/1976.

Press and Journal, May 15, 1976.

Press and Journal, May 15, 1976.

4  Department of Energy, Diving Safety Memorandum 11/1976.

5  Jackie Warner, and Fred Park, Requiem for a Diver, p. 51.

6  W.G. Carson, The Other Price of Britain’s Oil, p. 269.

The News line, April 15, 1977.

8  W.G. Carson, The Other Price of Britain’s Oil, p. 270.

 

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