NZ diver in Maldives poisonings says death was 'waste'

01:43, Jan 31 2009

New Zealand divemaster Lee Findlay says the death of a Russian tourist killed in the Maldives last month by carbon monoxide pumped into his air bottle was a "needless waste".

Mr Findlay, of Remuera, and his wife Niv were tourists on a commercial diving trip with Russian Roman Rudakov, 41, and both unsuccessfully tried to resuscitate him.

The Russian was an "extremely nice guy" who had a wife and two small children, Mr Findlay told a specialist website for divers, scubaboard.com.

"If anything good at all can come from this, hopefully the Maldivian government will tighten up health and safety regulations for all dive operators."

One of the compressors used to fill air tanks had incorrectly been fitted with a cheap filter which did not extract carbon monoxide from the air it was pumping: "Apparently this practice is widespread in the Maldives," he said.

Most of the tanks used by the party contained the exhaust gas at the level of 80 parts per million (ppm).

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The maximum safe level for diving is 15ppm, and Mr Rudakov's tank had at least 10 times that level, according to local police.

Survivors of the May 28 poisoning included tourists from New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Germany visiting the Maldives' palm-fringed coral islands 800km off the toe of India.

Maldives police have arrested a 21-year-old man, who was responsible for filling the divers' air tanks, on suspicion of negligence, a local news website, minivannews.com, reported today

A German victim, Raymond Kober, told the website that the company which ran their trip, Touring Maldives - controlled by Austrian Gundi Holm - should be held responsible.

Mr Findlay said there were signs of poor maintenance and inadequate training of staff in addition to a cheap filter being used.

A total of 16 divers, including two guides, were on the trip, but two people - including Mrs Findlay - stayed out of the water because they had been experiencing headaches after diving.

Ten divers on the boat Baani Adventurer received bad air, and another four had clean air in tanks filled from a second compressor.

Mr Findlay said Mr Rudakov appeared to have been made unconscious by the bad air about the time he surfaced, and to have floated face-down in the water and drowned.

"The crew did not appear to know what to do so my wife started CPR and several of them simply stood around and watched," Mr Findlay said. "His lungs were full of water".

Mr Findlay said his diving partner experienced problems and was only semi-conscious when she surfaced.

When he got back on the boat, Mr Findlay took over CPR on the Russian, and his wife took an oxygen bottle to help other affected divers, including the two guides, who were very ill.

The oxygen bottle did not work.

- NZPA