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Asia Dive News : Saipan dive shop sued over diver death in bad weather

A Japanese filed yesterday a lawsuit in federal court against a dive shop over the death of his daughter who underwent a scuba diving course held during bad weather at the Grotto dive site in Marpi two years ago.

Hideki Morita, father of the deceased Megumi Morita, sued Scuba World Inc., owner of Pastime Dive Shop, for wrongful death.

Morita asked the U.S. District Court for the NMI to order Scuba World to pay him damages. He demanded for a jury trial.

A diving instructor, Mayumi Fukuda, also died in that same incident.

Attorney William M. Fitzgerald, counsel for Morita, stated in the complaint that Megumi and her friend Naomi Tsumura completed the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) Open Water Scuba Diver course in May 2005 in Okayama, Japan.

Megumi and Tsumura were awarded certification cards as open water divers.

PADI is an international organization, which conducts scuba diving courses and certifies divers at various skill levels.

Megumi and Tsumura, Fitzgerald said, decided that they wanted to improve their diving skills by taking the Advanced Open Water course.

He said the two learned that H.I.S., a Japanese travel agency, was advertising a package tour to Saipan for those who want to obtain advanced certification as a PADI Advanced Open Water diver.

Fitzgerald said for the money received, PADI and Pastime Dive Shop undertook the responsibility of providing instruction and supervision of the Advanced Open Water course to the two divers.

Megumi and Tsumura arrived on Saipan at 2am of July 16, 2005. They were taken to their hotel and, after checking in, slept briefly before they were required to report to the Pastime Dive Shop.

Fitzgerald said that at the shop Megumi and Tsumura were given no materials or instruction before they were taken to Lau Lau Beach for their first dive.

The instructor assigned to them did not inquire about their dive experience and taking part in the dive were four other divers who were not taking the course.

After completion of the dive at Lau Lau Beach, Megumi and Tsumura were taken to Obyan Beach along with the four non-participants of the course.

After this dive, Fitzgerald said, the instructor informed Megumi and Tsumura that their dive skills were poor and that they really were not advanced level divers but that she, the instructor, could award the certification cards to them anyway.

Megumi and Tsumura returned to Pastime Dive Shop where they had lunch.

No instruction was given to them after lunch, and they were simply informed that they were to go diving at the Grotto, Fitzgerald said,

A new instructor named Mayumi Fukuda was assigned to be their instructor.

Again at the Grotto dive, the four other persons who were not part of the course were under the care, guidance, and or instruction of Fukuda.

Fitzgerald said Megumi and Tsumura were not given instruction or information about how the Grotto dive fit into the course of instruction of the Advanced Open Water course or what they were supposed to learn from the Grotto dive.

The Grotto is a dive site, which consists of a pool of water at the base of a long flight of stairs, and has three openings or tunnels, which lead out to the open ocean.

“A dive through the tunnels to the open ocean is one for advanced divers only, and at the time of this dive the Grotto was dangerous for novice divers because the weather was extremely windy and the water turbulent as a result of a typhoon which had recently passed nearby,” Fitzgerald said.

Led by Fukuda, the group of six divers, including Megumi and Tsumura, descended to the bottom of the Grotto pool and then proceeded out to the open ocean through one of the tunnels.

Once out in the open ocean, Megumi encountered some difficulty with her equipment and signaled that she was having a problem.

Fukuda went to her to determine what the problem was and, after being with her for a short period of time, the two of them began to slowly rise to the surface.

Fitzgerald said the five other divers stayed in place and watched Megumi and Fukuda rise to the surface.

He said after a period of time, another instructor came by after seeing that the group was without a guide or instructor.

This instructor alerted all the guides and instructors, who were at the Grotto that day and they went back in the water and out through the tunnel to look for Megumi and Fukuda.

“Megumi was found lying on the floor of the ocean without her regulator in her mouth. She was brought back in through the tunnel and to the surface and taken out of the water where CPR was performed to no avail,” the complaint said.

An ambulance arrived and took Megumi to the Commonwealth Health Center where she was pronounced dead.

Back at the Grotto, Fitzgerald said, the search for Fukuda continued, but it was not until the next morning that her dead body was found floating on the surface, miles away from the Grotto.

“Pastime Dive Shop having undertaken the responsibility of instructing and supervising Megumi in the PADI Advanced Open Water course, had the duty to provide competent and responsible dive instructors who would devote their time and attention to insure a safe course and dives,” the lawyer asserted.

“The actions of the defendant, specifically in choosing the Grotto on that day in spite of the adverse weather and dangerous water conditions, were intentional and in willful disregard of the personal safety of Megumi,” he added.

Source: Saipan Tribune