QLD: Dive company guilty of safety breach over death of inexperienced diver

Monday 8 May, 2017

Scuba Divers

A north Queensland dive company has pleaded guilty to breaching its duty under the Safety in Recreational Water Activities Act 2011 following the death of a UK tourist during an introductory scuba dive near Hayman Island two years ago.

At a recent hearing in the Proserpine Magistrates Court, the Airlie Beach based charter boat operator was fined $160,000, plus professional and court costs of $1,089.40.

Acknowledging the company had cooperated fully with the investigation and had no previous convictions under work health and safety laws, the magistrate gave an order that no conviction be recorded.

Members of the family who had travelled to Australia for the hearing, were somewhat disappointed with the ‘no conviction’ ruling, but content with the fine imposed.

Bethany Farrell had been with a group of friends on the diving tour with the company on 17 February 2015 and took part in an introductory dive at Blue Pearl Bay, near Hayman Island.

During the introductory dive, her first, the 23 year old became separated from her instructor and was later located dead on the ocean floor. The cause of death was drowning/immersion.

Workplace Health and Safety Queensland subsequently conducted a comprehensive investigation into the incident and charged the company with failing to comply with its health and safety duty, resulting in the death of Farrell.

In sentencing the company, Magistrate Simon Young noted resort diving is a high risk activity in a hostile environment, but that this young lady was inexperienced and relied on the company for her health and safety.

His Honour mentioned the pain suffered by the parents, who flew out from England. Both delivered victims’ impact statements.

His Honour took into account the company’s early guilty plea, its cooperation with the investigation and that it had no previous convictions.

Magistrate Young acknowledged the company did not put the parents through the trauma of a contested application.

The defendant had an unblemished history, and since this tragic incident, stopped all scuba diving activity at significant financial cost. The company also made a sincere apology.

At the start of a year-long holiday, Farrell had only been in Australia for a week when the tragedy occurred.