Bali boat captain held over Japanese divers accident

AFP-JIJI, Kyodo

Indonesian police have arrested the captain of a boat that took a group of Japanese divers on an ill-fated expedition off Bali in which at least one woman died, an official said Thursday.

The man has been named a suspect and is accused of negligence causing loss of life by leaving the female divers alone in the open seas during the trip, said Handoyo Supeno of the Bali marine police.

The news came as officials called off the search for the final missing diver, Shoko Takahashi — one of seven women who took part in the expedition that set off last Friday from an island east of Bali.

The divers quickly became lost and drifted for kilometers in stormy seas before five of them managed to clamber onto rocks in the ocean and were rescued three days later.

The body of a sixth diver was found floating near a beach on Tuesday.

Supeno, the head of law enforcement at the marine police, said the captain, Agustinus Brata Kusuma, had been named a suspect Wednesday following interviews with four of those rescued.

The women told how they “dived for 30 minutes and came to the surface but the Ocean Express was not there”, he said, referring to the boat.

“We named the boat captain a suspect as he has (committed) negligence that caused the loss of life.” The captain has been detained, Supeno added.

Police were also investigating one of the instructors on the trip, Bali-based Japanese national Saori Furukawa, who ran the scuba company that organized the expedition, said Supeno.

However, he added there was only a “slim possibility” she would be named a suspect since she had all the necessary qualifications for an instructor.

Bali search and rescue chief Didi Hamzar said Thursday evening that the hunt for the final missing diver had been called off entirely after another unsuccessful day.

“Everyone in Bali is aware of this incident. I am sure they will inform us if they find the missing person,” he said.

Four of the rescued divers were earlier Thursday discharged from hospital and prepared to return home, bowing to reporters as they left the building.

“We apologise for causing tremendous worries and trouble,” one of them said.

“We pray the missing person will be found as soon as possible.”

In a joint statement, the four women gave new details of their ordeal, saying they worked hard to keep each others’ spirits up after drifting for days and being pushed onto rocks.

“We told each other that we will go home alive. We encouraged each other by saying we could keep going because we had already survived drifting in the water for 28 hours,” they said.

After drifting, four of them managed to clamber onto some rocks on Saturday in a remote area off Nusa Penida island, which is next to Nusa Lembongan, where the expedition began.

They sheltered themselves from the harsh sun during the day and climbed up to the highest point to flash distress lights at night, fighting all the time against exhaustion and thirst.

“We were exhausted. We couldn’t get any water on the first day as it was sunny. On the second day, we collected rain water in our fins to quench our thirst. We also collected rain water in plastic bottles picked up from garbage,” they said.

They were rescued by boat Monday in the Manta Point area off Nusa Penida, some 20 km from where they set off.

Furukawa was picked up by helicopter nearby and had already been discharged from hospital.