BANTEN, Indonesia: The three divers, including a Singaporean who went missing off Indonesia’s Java island, went scuba diving without consulting local guides who could have warned them about the strong undercurrents in the area, a senior rescue official said on Wednesday (Nov 6).
In an interview with CNA, Mr Muhammad Zaenal, chief of the Banten Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) said the missing men were diving off the eastern coast of Sangiang Island on Sunday along with three others.
“They informally divided themselves into two teams of three. One team (who all returned) headed north while the other team headed south,” he said from Basarnas’ command centre in Merak Port, 30 minutes from the island.
This put the three missing divers in the path of a strong undercurrent which flows from the Straits of Malacca and Java Sea into the Indian Ocean.
“Even our divers got swept away by the undercurrent while trying to locate the missing men, emerging 1.7 nautical mile from where they were originally after a one hour search,” said Mr Muhammad.
“Locals also believe that there is a shallow trench (potentially resulting in accelerated currents) at the south side of the island which could aggravate the conditions further.”
The group was experienced and one among them had a rescuer licence, said the rescue chief without elaborating.
“From the admission of the survivors, they did not hire or consult a local guide before scuba diving on Sunday. Had they done so, they would have been aware of the presence of the strong undercurrent.”
The missing Singaporean has been identified as Wan Bing Yang, while the other two are Chinese nationals Qin Xue Tao and Tian Yu.
Mr Muhammad said the six only arrived at the island on Sunday morning and did not plan on spending the night.
Basarnas has deployed more than 150 rescuers to comb the Sunda Strait on Wednesday, as efforts to locate those missing entered the fourth day.
The team has covered more than 900 sq km of the area between Sumatra and Java.
Nineteen civilian and military divers have been deployed to search the waters surrounding the island while the rest of the rescuers were on nine patrol vessels and one rescue helicopter.
“This afternoon we got extra help from the military in the form of two surveillance planes which are combing the waters along the Sunda Strait, looking for any clues of their whereabouts,” said Mr Muhammad.
On Tuesday, Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said Indonesian authorities are coordinating search and rescue operations.
MFA added that it was providing assistance to the family of the missing Singaporean.
The Singapore Embassy has been liaising closely with the Indonesian authorities involved in the search mission, while a consular officer from the embassy was on the ground to “provide assistance and close support”, it said.
When asked about the likelihood of finding the three divers alive, the rescue chief said: “We can only hope for the best”.
The rescue operation will formally end on Saturday. “But it can be extended if the family request for it,” he added.