Distressing start to summer season for divers in Irish waters

Four divers have died off the Irish coast in the past three weeks

Two of the deaths resulted from ‘combination dives’. . . [which] are, by their very nature, technical and dangerous and require careful calculation. Photograph:  Nigel Roddis/Reuters

Two of the deaths resulted from ‘combination dives’. . . [which] are, by their very nature, technical and dangerous and require careful calculation. Photograph: Nigel Roddis/Reuters

Sat, Jul 5, 2014, 01:00

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever,” the late French diver, explorer and film-maker Jacques-Yves Cousteau once said. The former French naval officer was so enthusiastic about life beneath the waves that he introduced many of his own family members to the aqua-lung he had helped to invent.

His words, and his passion, will be of little consolation to the families of four sports divers who have lost their lives in Irish waters in the past three weeks, marking a distressing start to a summer season in Europe’s finest blue water environment.

A 45-year-old Co Limerick man got into difficulty when diving on a German U-boat off Roche’s Point at the mouth of Cork harbour on June 14th, and a Polish national, also aged 45, died a day later near Inishtrahull, off Malin Head, Co Donegal.

Earlier this week, two English divers, aged 61 and 66 respectively, became the third and fourth fatalities in less than a month. They were among a group exploring the German U260 submarine wreck lying in 42 metres of water, 6km off the west Cork coast.

Just one of the four who died, John McNally from Bruff, Co Limerick, was a member of the Irish Underwater Council, Comhairle Fo-Thuinn (CFT).

The national umbrella organisation oversees training methods and standards and, like most adventure sports, adheres to voluntary safety codes.

The council is precluded from commenting on any of the fatalities, as investigations by the Garda and Health and Safety Authority are in train.

The recent incidents have some common denominators. The four divers were all over 40 years old, and at least two of the three incidents have been confirmed as “combination dives”, where there is more than one descent on an expedition.

Irish Water Safety chief executive and former Naval Service diver John Leech points out that combination dives are, by their very nature, technical and dangerous and require careful calculation.

Breathing gases under elevated pressure runs the risk of narcosis, where mental, sensory, cognitive and motor activity can be impaired or diminished.

Careful preparation, staged ascent and the “buddy” system of diving protects divers against what has been nicknamed “Martini’s law” – as in narcosis being similar in impact to one Martini for every 10 metres below 20 metres.

Irish Coast Guard director Chris Reynolds points out that “every diver is responsible for planning his or her own dive, but when you are on holidays you can sometimes push it”.