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Snorkeller who went missing off Sisters' Islands during family outing found dead 2 days later: Coroner

Snorkeller who went missing off Sisters' Islands during family outing found dead 2 days later: Coroner

Sister's Islands Marine Park. (Photo: TODAY)

SINGAPORE: A 41-year-old Singaporean man who went to Sisters' Islands in December last year for a family outing went missing while snorkelling at a lagoon, and his body was found two days later by rescuers.

The coroner said in findings on Tuesday (May 18) that Mr Antoni, who goes by one name, had died of drowning in an unfortunate misadventure.

She advised leisure snorkellers to be aware of the potential dangers of snorkelling in choppy waters and reminded them to wear flotation devices.

The court heard that Mr Antoni, his wife and two children left their home at about 7.30am on Dec 6, 2020. The brother of Mr Antoni's wife met the family at the cruise centre with his own family, and together the group took a ferry to the Sisters' Islands, south of Singapore's mainland.

After arriving at Sisters' Islands, the two families set up picnic baskets on the beach next to a small lagoon. 

Mr Antoni went into the waters of the lagoon with the children to snorkel. He returned a short while later and said he was going to the bigger lagoon, as there was not much marine life to see in the small one.

He left at about 10.40am, the court heard, with his swimsuit and snorkel but no life jacket. The rest of the group stayed at the small lagoon.

About an hour later, Mr Antoni's wife realised he had not returned and she alerted her brother. They went to look for Mr Antoni, but could not find him. National Parks Board officers joined the search but could not find him either.

The family called the Police Coast Guard, the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Maritime Port Authority (MPA) to report a missing snorkeller.

Commercial divers activated by the MPA began a search and rescue operation for Mr Antoni around the waters off Sisters' Islands at about 4pm, but could not find him.

They continued searching for the next two days, until his body was sighted floating at sea off the islands at about 5.25pm on Dec 8, 2020.

RESCUERS FOUND HIS BODY TWO DAYS LATER

His body was retrieved from the waters. No snorkelling gear was found on him, and his body was bloated and in a severe state of decomposition, the coroner said.

He was identified through fingerprint analysis and pronounced dead. An autopsy found the cause of death to be consistent with drowning.

There were fractures on his legs and nose, believed to have been caused by propellers of passing vessels, possibly after he had died.

An eyewitness who was at the beach near the larger lagoon said he saw someone swimming alone towards the mouth of the lagoon facing the open sea at about 11.15am on Dec 6.

CURRENT WAS VERY STRONG

He said it was sunny that day, but that the waters at the lagoon were choppy with a strong undercurrent. Even as he stood in the waters about two to three metres from the shore, he could feel the current pulling him out and felt it was unsafe to swim there.

One of the commercial divers who went into the waters to recover Mr Antoni's body similarly stated that he found the sea conditions at the location to be unsafe for swimmers.

He said the undersea currents at the big lagoon were very strong, and the waters were deep. He advised snorkellers, especially non-professional ones, to wear life jackets there.

Scene investigations found several signs placed prominently near the lagoons and at the breakwaters at Sisters' Islands, alerting visitors to the dangers of swimming there.

The notices state that the currents may be strong, that visitors swim at their own risk and that there are no lifeguards on duty at the lagoon.

There are no barriers such as ropes or nets at the mouth of the lagoon to prevent swimmers from being swept out to open sea, and there are also commercial vessels plying the fairways outside the lagoon that could impact undersea currents with their movements.

"The chances of someone being pulled out into the open sea if he swims close to the mouth of the lagoon is significant," said State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam.

ADVICE FOR SNORKELLERS

The president of the Singapore Underwater Federation said that a person must be able to swim at least 50m and be medically and physically fit in order to be competent at snorkelling.

There is no requirement for a snorkeller to use a flotation device like a life jacket for leisure snorkelling in Singapore waters, but most instructors organising such activities would mandate the use of safety equipment such as life jackets.

Mr Antoni's wife said she was unsure of his swimming ability, and that she had last seen him swim and snorkel about 12 years ago.

They bought a snorkel in December 2020 after he told her he wanted to go snorkelling again, but did not buy a life vest. The family decided to go to Sisters' Islands after reading on the Internet that it was a good place for snorkelling, with many corals in the area.

However, she said they were unaware of the tidal stream and the undersea currents near the islands.

The coroner said there is no basis to suspect foul play in Mr Antoni's death. She advised leisure snorkellers to always be aware of their surroundings and safeguard against potential dangers.

"Snorkelling in choppy waters or when the currents are strong is ill-advised, especially so for an inexperienced snorkeller," she said.

"Beginner snorkellers should don a life vest or a flotation aid for buoyancy. They should also pay heed to the signages and carefully select a spot which is safe for their snorkeling activity."

She conveyed her condolences to Mr Antoni's family for their very sad loss.

Source: CNA/ll(rw)

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