Beach Oxygen in Bali

By Simon Pridmore

The other day, I drove down to the parking lot near the drop off at the eastern end of Bali’s Tulamben bay. I hadn’t been there for a while. As I set my gear up I noticed a new installation at the edge of the car park, near the beach. There was a new roofed plinth that housed, to my surprise, a 50-litre bottle of oxygen and an oxygen delivery kit. A banner attached to the roof declared that the facility had been provided by Alba Diving.

Extremely impressed, after the dive I headed to Villa Alba, Alba Diving’s beachside resort, and asked the owner, Alex Ford, what the story was. We sat down for a beer and he explained.

Lately he and his instructors had witnessed two incidents on Tulamben beach, which had brought home the need for oxygen to be available on the beach to treat injured divers and the fact that many diver operators in the area did not have oxygen available.

Beach Entry

Alex and his dive buddy had just surfaced from a dive on the Liberty shipwreck and we were waiting on the beach for two other Alba Diving guests to come out of the water, when they noticed two dive guides from another company escorting a diver up the beach. They sat him down on a bench and left him there. It looked like the diver was in a bad way, but when Alex suggested that he might need help, the guides told him there was nothing wrong and that he would be OK. He didn’t look OK: his face was deathly white; he was just sitting there immobile and seemed exhausted.

Alex suggested that the guides put the diver on oxygen straightaway but they said they didn’t have any, neither on the beach nor in their van. Alex got his own oxygen kit out and had the diver breathe from this until the cylinder ran out. By that time, the diver said he was feeling better. He certainly looked better. Alex advised the dive guides to find more oxygen for the diver and recommended they monitor his progress, contact the Divers Alert Network (DAN) and call a doctor if the diver’s condition deteriorated. The group departed and Alex never found out what happened subsequently.

A few days later, in the same location, one of Alex’s divemasters was snorkelling over the shipwreck when he noticed a diver floating on the surface on his back, completely motionless. The diver was unresponsive and the divemaster towed him to the beach and commenced CPR. He called for help from the other divers and dive guides on the beach and asked them to get some oxygen. No oxygen appeared so all he could do was just continue the CPR.

A few minutes later, the injured diver’s team surfaced and swam back to the beach. They said they had no idea what had happened. They had been swimming along in the shallows when suddenly the injured diver had headed for the surface. Alex’s divemaster continued CPR for a further 10 to 15 minutes. Still no oxygen supply had been produced. Finally, the injured diver’s team carried him to their car and drove away to get medical help.

Currents

These incidents brought home to Alex the fact that, while Alba Diving and some other local dive operators carry emergency oxygen when they run dive operations in Tulamben, the majority of dive operators do not. This was something that DAN had found when they carried out a survey in the area several years previously. The excuse cited by many was that they had never had an accident and, if they did, they would find one of the operators who did carry emergency oxygen and ask to use theirs. The situation was no better today.

So Alex approached the Tulamben Dive Association, a group of villagers that administer access to the beach and arrange porters and trash collection, among other things. He explained the issue and told them that, if they were in agreement, Alba Diving, in conjunction with the training agency RAID, would supply and maintain two emergency oxygen depots on Tulamben beach, one near the Drop Off, the other near the Liberty shipwreck. The two sites would be for anyone to use and, in addition to the oxygen supply, there would be an oxygen delivery kit there, together with instructions in English and Indonesian. The Dive Association agreed wholeheartedly with the proposal and was extremely supportive.

Alex estimated the set up cost at US$300 and estimated that the annual cost of running the depots would be around US$50. As he said, this was not a huge amount when you considered that lives could be saved. He added that it also demonstrated to visitors that the Bali dive community was serious about diver safety and welfare.

I told Alex that I thought his initiative was highly commendable but that a more convincing indication of commitment would be if all licensed dive operations were required to have emergency oxygen available as a condition of their license.

He nodded but threw his arms up in a silent expression of frustration, indicating that he didn’t think that was likely to happen.

I mentioned that, in my books, I tell divers that a good sign of a professional dive centre is if they have emergency oxygen available. I also advise them to ask the question whenever they are considering operations to dive with when they go on holiday. I said I hoped that perhaps some good would come of this and that, even if they didn’t have the common sense to do it anyway, maybe dive centres would start providing emergency oxygen simply because of customer demand.

DAN AP’s OXYGEN PREPAREDNESS & AWARENESS CAMPAIGN

Operators! DAN World is here to help your business get oxygen prepared. LEARN MORE.

View our Awareness Poster HERE and share it with your operator and club.

Let’s work together to improve diving safety in our region.

About Simon Pridmore

Simon lives in Bali and is the author of the international bestsellers, "Scuba Confidential – An Insider’s Guide to Becoming a Better Diver" : "Scuba Professional - Insights into Sport Diver Training & Operations" and "Scuba Fundamental- Start Diving the Right Way". He is also the co-author of Diving & Snorkeling guides to Bali and Raja Ampat & Northeast Indonesia. Visit www.simonpridmore.com