The liveliest letters from the DIVER mailbag...
With regard to speculation about possible closure of all World War Two wreck dive sites, whether military or civilian, I am a little confused.
I have visited WW2 battlefields and cemeteries on land. I have stood next to veterans in a French town talking about how they fought their way through it and pointing out places where their comrades fell – comrades whose names they still remembered half a century later.
I visited these places to learn about the events that occurred and, in some small way, to pay my respects to the men whose bravery and sacrifices allow me the freedoms I enjoy.
It would be all too easy to apply the principle of out of sight, out of mind to WW2 ships and, more significantly, to the men who served on them.
I know from discussions with non-diving friends and work colleagues that few people understand what went on during either world war. Banning access to these sites will serve only to further limit the spread of that knowledge.
My plea to the authorities is this: don't let these wrecks rust away unseen and forgotten but encourage divers to visit and research them, and to pass on their knowledge in the hope that the men who died on them will be remembered by more than just a few relatives.
Dave Collins, Potton, Beds
I hesitate to contradict the guru of British wreck diving, Kendall McDonald (Wrecks Q&A, March) but I'm sure reader Tom Green is right to be worried about proposed changes in the law regarding divers' freedom in the sea. The power behind the politicians, the civil servants at the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, are so serious about changing the law that they have refused to allow the British Sub Aqua Club or other diving organisations to be represented on these working groups, despite vigorous efforts by these organisations and others, including several MPs led by Anthony Steen, who represents Totnes.
All members of the working groups have had to sign the Official Secrets Act. The DCMS has now condescended to let one of its staff meet representatives from BSAC and other diving organisations, but only once the working groups have finished their deliberations.
I can assure Tom Green that the proposal that all wrecks over 50 years old should be made historic wrecks; mandatory reporting of any wreckage divers see under water; and the abolition of salvage award are all being seriously considered.
Even if common sense prevails, there will still be some dramatic restrictions on divers' freedoms, yet they are not allowed officially to be on the working groups. It's a disgrace!
It is not the politicians who are barmy, it's the armchair archaeologists, most of whom have never dived in British waters or found a wreck, and have influence far beyond their numbers with DCMS. They think they can see a gravy train out of changing the law of the sea by creating vast empires of administrators pushing paper from one desk to the next.The vast majority of practical professional marine archaeologists who actually dive in British waters realise what a great asset divers are to our national heritage, and agree that we should be working together, recovering our history from the sea as equal partners.
Unfortunately, they don't want to put their heads above the parapet, as this could affect their careers.
The British diver is the best guardian of history in the sea. A hundred thousand sets of eyes out in the sea most weeks of the season costs the taxpayer nothing. For the sake of our heritage, let's all work together.
Neville Oldham, Blackpool Sands, Devon
I have just read the Mystery Diver column (March) on under-age diver training in the Canary Islands and wanted to pass on my experience. After a 25-year gap I had the excuse to start diving again when my son was 14. He did a two-dive PADI Discover Scuba course in Turkey and loved it.That winter he received superb training with a local set-up on a PADI Open Water Diver course (along with me, as I had done BSAC previously). We then looked to where to do the referral dives.
I chose Fuerteventura in the Canaries, and we found details of a five-star IDC centre on the PADI website and contacted it. The centre advised us that the only prerequisite under Spanish law was a medical certificate.
My son's age and date of birth were provided on multiple forms both to the dive centre and those sent on to PADI. They checked that he was then 14, and put him on the Junior OWD programme.
He completed the course, paid the fee and PADI was fully aware that he was under 15, as it would issue only a Junior, rather than a full, OWD certificate. It knew that the course was delivered in the Canaries, and that he was under 16, yet at no time did PADI or the dive centre mention that it was illegal for an under-16 to dive in Spain.
My son completed many dives last year, and has since completed his AOWD. We were looking for a week's diving in the Canaries again, but when we tried to book in Tenerife, we were told clearly that my son could not dive as he was under 16.
I contacted PADI to ask how it could allow a five-star IDC centre to offer training and certify people below the legal age to dive by that country's laws. Its response was that this was not its problem, and that local laws take precedence.
This I fully accept, but PADI also has a duty of care to ensure that the dive centres it licenses comply with local laws. I pointed out that it is fairly simple: PADI should never allow a dive centre in the Canaries or Spain to certificate any Junior OWD courses, as these would always contravene Spanish law.
It seems that income is far more important to PADI than ensuring that its dive centres obey local law.
Rick Hughes, Neath, South Wales
As one of the smallest dive centres on Tenerife, I have found it to be very difficult to be competitive when there are lots of dive schools willing to break the law. It is very distressing to turn down a complete family who want to dive, because a child is under 16, only to see them diving with another dive school the next day.
The amount of business lost in a year by not taking children could be well over £25,000. If Mystery Diver won't name and shame centres that disregard the law, perhaps he would be willing to name those who do obey it. I estimate that only 5% of dive centres on Tenerife are like mine and obey this law!
Is this endemic only to Tenerife? It is a Spanish law and the only exceptions are to Andalucia and Catyluna.
If a child is taken into the water, the instructor/dive centre has: no regard to the law; no respect for that child or the parents; invalidates their insurance; and is in it only for the money, not to be a professional diver/centre.
The training agencies themselves aid and abet those centres willing to break the law by issuing certification for those junior divers.
Again, are they in it only for the money? Isn't it about time something was done, at the highest level? The organisations say they are trying to do something, but what? Perhaps instructors and centres should be reprimanded by governing agencies, or even struck off if necessary.
All we (the legitimate schools) want is a level playing field. Perhaps then we can show that Tenerife is a respectable and professional place to dive – within the law.
Alan Bergin, Neptune Divers, Tenerife
I was on holiday in Tenerife last August and encountered the age-related problem. As a PADI Divemaster, I alerted the resort where I was staying that the PADI dive school using its pool was enticing 12-year-olds into the sea to scuba dive under its try-dive scheme.
If the legislation restricts under-16s from diving, then children try-diving in the hotel's pool is also quite wrong, but the commercial manager dismissed the whole question.
I felt I had been called a liar, so I contacted the British Consul, who confirmed that my information was right.
Further communication with the resort didn't appear to change minds. I contacted the Canarian government, and after some three months the Department of Tourism told me that the Department of Fisheries & Agriculture was responsible and that my letter of complaint had been passed on.
I also contacted PADI to complain that many of its members in Tenerife were effectively breaking the law. PADI was aware of the issue, and had been for some time.
PADI Europe stated that it was not breaking PADI standards, as these allow children to dive from the age of 10. However, also in PADI's general standards is a rule that any instructor or dive centre must comply with the law in the locality in which they dive.
I asked PADI why it accepts the qualification personal identification certificates (PICs) normally issued at the end of a dive course from the Canary Islands for those under 16.
Its response was that it receives about 500 PICs a day and does not have time to check every one. I was stunned. PADI America simply confirmed PADI Europe's position.
This is clearly a case of double standards. While PADI extols its position on safety and responsibility, no action is apparently taken when its members break the law.
I am glad that you have raised the issue, albeit that your piece covered only "training". I hope someone gets to grips with this problem before a child is seriously injured.
Robert G Ross, PADI Divemaster, Dundee
Neil Fishburne, PADI International Group Manager, Training, Quality Management & Memberships, comments: PADI is very aware of the issue of age and scuba diving in Spain and is working (through our PADI Europe office) with the Spanish authorities to modernise the regulations. This is a very complex issue, as national laws and laws set out by each of the Autonomous Communities within Spain have to be considered. The Canary Islands is one area looking at making a change. We state that it is every member's responsibility to comply with local laws, and while it is not within our jurisdiction to enforce compliance, when advised of specific breaches we will follow up with the centre.
The differences in interpretation of the law across Spain make it impossible for us to have a blanket policy, as suggested in the letters. The PADI Junior Open Water Diver certification is successfully run around the world (including the UK) - what we are dealing with in Spain are legislative issues, not safety concerns with the certification itself.
We all knew as soon as we read it – Norma Paynton, what have you started? (Let Down By Bad UK Instructor, Off-Gassing, January).
I wanted to reply to her letter straight away, but thought I'd wait for others to respond.
Sorry to say, there will always be bad training. I have heard and seen it every year since I took up diving in 1976. The Open Water diver who couldn't swim without fins (he took six months to pass our basic swimming test) and the "Navy-trained" diver who couldn't clear his mask – these are just some of the guys who came to our club for the better training.
Young Thomas Artingstall wrote in response to Norma that he had been diving for two years and is only 13 (Don't Stand For Bad Training, Off-Gassing, March).
I would love to have seen an 11-year-old trying to carry a 15 litre tank and 14kg of lead plus the rest of the gear, trekking 1000m down some rugged coastal path and over the rocks to some well-known dive sites.
Does he know what effect or damage all that pressure has on a child's body? I don't claim to know the answer, but perhaps that is why some countries such as Spain, and some other clubs and organisations, stipulate 16 years as a minimum age for diving.
Bob Bills, Newcastle
The letter from Richard Wingett (Don't Take Your Air For Granted, March) was the biggest load of rot I have ever read.
I fully endorse effective training and preparation in anticipation of an "out of air" incident, but anyone who interrupted my air supply for "fun" would be looking for the nearest hospital. I wouldn't dive with this group of supposed experienced instructors and friends if my life depended on it. Give me a sensible novice any day.
The RNLI and other rescue personnel risk their lives for these idiots. People like this give diving a bad name, and the sport doesn't need them.
Terry Hodgens, Milton Keynes
First of all – great magazine. Now that's out of the way, let's get to the point. I don't make a habit of writing to magazines, but your March front page demands it.
What an amazing picture, but oh, how disappointing! Inside not one, not two, but three pictures all featuring the diver "interacting" with the beautiful manta ray in an irresponsible manner.
I appreciate that the temptation is hard to resist and I acknowledge that the article points out that these mantas are particularly curious, but surely you shouldn't be promoting this kind of diving behaviour?
I have had the pleasure of diving with mantas in French Polynesia and the whale sharks of Galapagos. The first thing you are told is "don't touch the locals". As I understand it, the reason is simple – by doing so, you remove the protective membrane that keeps out unwanted parasites.
I am sure that the experience in San Benedicto can be every bit as rewarding without having to engage the mantas. One of the diving mantras is "take nothing except pictures, and leave only bubbles". Perhaps this needs to be extended to include a reference to touch?
Luke Simmonds, London
Sabrina Belloni, the model in the pictures, replies: The mantas were completely free to choose whether to come to us or not. They were not induced to modify their natural behaviour by food or anything else. For some reason the mantas of San Benedicto like contact with diver's bubbles and gentle caresses on their bellies, without gloves.
I have stayed for hours with these giants and often did not touch them, but believe me, it was always the mantas that would select the divers and incite the contact.
And they don't seem concerned about the mucus covering their skin being removed. As you can see from the pictures, they appear to be in good health and with no parasites.
San Benedicto is difficult to reach. The mantas are not yet overwhelmed by irresponsible divers and perhaps show their natural behaviour and curiosity, a way of life we have not yet understood.
I agree that the best way to enjoy the underwater environment is to "take nothing but pictures", while pointing out that quantities of exhaust bubbles, as breathed out by groups of divers, can cause huge damage to coral polyps, algae and benthic life, and frightens fish.
Experienced divers also know of the dangers of bubble effects on wrecks.
David Rose responded in March to my original letter about exploding sharks (Let Jaws Climax Be A Warning, January). I concede that not all of the energy of an exploding cylinder would be devoted to throwing a diver over the Empire State Building. Some of it would be diverted into heat, providing the sound energy of the bang, overcoming air resistance etc. Besides, in a real situation, some of the energy would push the diver in the wrong direction.
Unfortunately, I haven't seen the programme Mythbusters but even Mr Rose must concede that a cylinder whizzing around a room suggests the release of a lot of energy, sufficient to kill a diver or do serious harm to a shark.
Finally, it is false to suggest that cylinders become less hazardous once pressurised. Try dropping one on its pillar valve and you'll see what I mean. Besides, every child knows that the bigger the pressure, the bigger the pop.
Dr Mike Follows, Willenhall, West Midlands
I read with interest the article on diving in Norway (Take My Fins And Pass The Pasta, April), particularly as it mentioned the Seattle wreck near Kristiansand.
After passing my National Instructor exam I awaited the call to do an overseas instructional trip, thinking Caribbean etc. But I was despatched to the British Mountain Training Centre in Norway with the Army for a week to run an Advanced Instructor course.
We found the Seattle using a proton magnetometer, and dropped a shotline that snagged the top of the mast, which still had aerials and stay-wires attached.
We dived it as part of the AI exam and Titch Titchener (later of Swanage dive-boat fame) and I were probably the first Brits to visit the wreck. It is, indeed, awesome.
Back in the UK, I undertook some research. According to Lloyds, the Seattle was sunk by aircraft, but that was not entirely correct. At the start of the war, it was ordered back from Curaçao. It arrived off Kristiansand just as the Germans invaded, attacking anything that was not part of the invasion fleet.
Seattle was damaged by Stuka dive-bombers and finished off by a Norwegian destroyer, the Gyller, and sank in the fjord.
In Curaçao Seattle had been rafted with other German ships. The one next to it had none other than Hans Hass on board. When I met Hass while I was Chairman of BSAC, I was worried about what to chat to him about.
I needn't have worried; we ended up talking about the Seattle, as he had spent a great deal of time on her in Curaçao with his friend the captain. A small world!
Howard Painter, Worcester