Divers who lost all of their possessions during a liveaboard fire in Hurghada, Egypt blame tour operator, boat owner and crew for negligence.
Ben Lowe from the UK chartered the boat “Overseas” (formerly Diving City) from Port Ghalib Divers for what was supposed to be a great tour of dive sites in the Red Sea. Unfortunately for Ben and the rest of the guests, the trip become much more of a nightmare.
What started as a small kitchen fire quickly turned into an uncontrollable blaze that required the guests to abandon ship and watch as their dive trip came to an end and their equipment and clothing disappeared either into the blaze or to the bottom of the Red Sea.
So why use a word as strong as negligence?
According to those onboard, the boat was equipped with only one water fire extinguisher. When the fire broke out in the kitchen, the crew proceeded to tackle the oil fire with the water extinguisher, which clearly made matters worse. To combat the increasingly growing blaze, they then attempted to extinguish this same oil fire with buckets of water. A panic ensued to say the least.
A final attempt to curtail the fire was attempted by turning the boat into the wind. This resulted in the blaze travelling the full length of the boat and onto the dive deck where the guests were located.
At no point did any of the boat crew suggest getting off the boat. It was the guests themselves who insisted that they abandon the vessel and get into a zodiac.
The problem became compounded on dry land when the owner of the boat, Ibrahim Ahmed Galal (unconfirmed) offered to reimburse the guests so they could get clothing and other essentials. This offer was then rescinded when it became contingent on signing papers which cleared the boat owners of all liability.
We have reached out to the owners and Port Ghalib divers for comment but so far have had no response.
In the interest of fairness, I am actually a partner in a liveaboard vessel based in Hurghada so it would be easy for me to form a bias on the events and also be overly critical about what happened. The important thing to note however, is that not all liveaboards, tour operators and boats are the same. Ensure to check before you book about safety features available on the boat. How many life rafts? How many fire extinguishers? Do they have emergency o2? Is there an AED onboard? How comprehensive is the first aid kit? Gain confidence in the operator before booking and once you do arrive, make sure all of the boat safety features are covered in your boat briefing.
For us personally, health and safety were a crucial part of our boat design process and we consider that this is an area where sacrifices should never be made in order to save money. Ensure that the boat you are booking also takes this approach.
Fires can happen on liveaboards. After all, many of them are made of wood and accidents can happen but you should have confidence in the company that they and their crew can handle an incident if the unthinkable happens.