JAKARTA – Rescuers found no clues Sunday as the search for seven Japanese scuba divers entered its third day off the southeast coast of Bali.
Authorities said rescuers using boats and aircraft turned up nothing that could indicate what happened to the all-female group, which consisted of two Bali-based instructors and five tourists.
Didi Hamzar, chief of the Bali Search and Rescue Agency, told a press conference that it swept a 106-sq.-nautical-mile area on Sunday but found nothing.
“In accordance with standard procedures, the search will continue until the fifth day,” he said. “It could be extended, depending on the situation, by considering the costs and benefits,” he added.
Family members of some of the missing divers are scheduled to arrive at the Indonesian resort island on Monday.
The two instructors, Shoko Takahashi, 35, and Saori Furukawa, 37, work for Bali-based dive shop Yellow Scuba, local sources said.
Police and rescue authorities identified the five tourists as Ritsuko Miyata, 59, Emi Yamamoto, 33, Nahomi Tomita, 28, Aya Morizono, 27, Atsumi Yoshinode, 29.
Local police Chief Nyoman Suarsika said the group left for Nusa Penida on off Bali’s southeast coast on Friday morning and began diving in the deadly Crystal Bay mangrove area at 1 p.m.
While Crystal Bay is famous for its beautiful coral and sunfish sightings, it is also known for panic-inducing “down currents” that can quickly pull divers deep and keep them churning below for minutes, according to local newspapers and diving bloggers.
“The weather was extreme at the time. The wind was strong, with heavy rain,” Suarsika said.
Bali Gov. I Made Mangku Pastika acknowledged that the famous diving spot is “also very dangerous.”
“Although the diving procedures have been obeyed and all tourists who are going to dive are accompanied by dive masters, we must pay attention to unpredictable natural aspects,” Pastika said.
In August 2012, Japanese tourist Ai Tanaka and Danish diver Hendrik Kent Jensen died on consecutive days, forcing Nusa Penida to close Crystal Bay.
The divers, who were described as experienced, went missing on their third dive near Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida on Friday afternoon, said Katsunobu Yasue, Japan’s deputy consul general in Bali.
The skipper of their dive boat called the police after the women failed to resurface, Yasue said, adding it was hired from Yellow Scuba on the beachside strip of Sanur.
The skipper said he was following the divers for some 20 minutes before a sudden downpour turned the water cloudy, the daily Asahi Shimbun reported. He then moved his 10-meter-long boat to a point hundreds of meters away from where the divers were expected to resurface at the agreed time, the report said. He said he searched for an hour before reporting the incident.
“I’ve been guiding since 2009, and I’ve been to the (accident) area many times. Why did this happen?” he reportedly said.
Bali is often pounded by heavy afternoon rain during the wet season, which lasts around six months of the year.
Yasue said the search began early Saturday morning.
“On Saturday, the search and rescue agency and maritime police went out from 6 in the morning, and they’ve gone out today as well with a large boat and a helicopter,” he said, adding that fishermen and other Japanese diving instructors based in Bali voluntarily joined the effort.
The search was halted at 3 p.m. Saturday by bad weather, Yasue said.
Yasue said the seven women were experienced divers who had at least 50 dives each under their belts.
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida are popular scuba diving spots and are part of the Coral Triangle, widely considered the world’s richest underwater wilderness. The Coral Triangle includes the waters of six nations in the Indian and Pacific oceans — Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.