Diver killed by stingray: He died caring for his 'babies'

Mr Chan was one of 10 employees who stayed on to care for the animals at Underwater World Singapore while they were found new homes. Haw Par Corp, which operated UWS, says he was a veteran diver, aquarist and animal caregiver who had been caring for
Mr Chan was one of 10 employees who stayed on to care for the animals at Underwater World Singapore while they were found new homes. Haw Par Corp, which operated UWS, says he was a veteran diver, aquarist and animal caregiver who had been caring for the aquatic animals at UWS since its opening in 1991.ST FILE PHOTO

Underwater World Singapore was working on moving the animals from closed attraction

A scuba wetsuit belonging to Mr Philip Chan hung beside his funeral portrait at his wake yesterday, a testament to the life he devoted - and eventually lost - to his passion.

Mr Chan, 62, the head diver at Underwater World Singapore (UWS), was working on moving the marine animals he loved out of the now-closed attraction.

But on Tuesday, the barb of a stingray punctured his chest. He was rushed to Singapore General Hospital, where he died.

His wife of 34 years, Madam Serene Tong, received a call from the UWS management about the incident at about 2pm.

She was "very cool" when she got the news, the 59-year-old clerical officer said yesterday.

The Manpower Ministry said it has instructed UWS to stop all activities associated with the transferring of sea animals, and that investigations are ongoing.

 

That was only because she had thought the incident was not life-threatening, like the only other major incident many years ago when he was bitten on the head by a shark at UWS.

At the hospital, her daughters, aged 26 and 32, broke the bad news to her.

"They pulled me in a hug and told me he was gone," she said, breaking down at the memory.

Mr Chan had left their home in Lengkok Bahru at 6.30am that day, so early that he did not have time to make breakfast for his wife, a routine she cherished.

"I wish I had done that once or twice for him," she said.

Her husband was honest, straightforward and hard-working, added Madam Tong.

She never feared for his safety, she said, as he knew his job, loved it and was good at it. He had worked for UWS right from its opening.

The attraction on Sentosa closed on June 26, after 25 years. Mr Chan, a senior supervisor of the curatorial department, was one of 10 employees who stayed on to care for the animals while new homes were found for them.

He took his work seriously, but knew when to let his hair down - on festive occasions, he would put on a Santa suit or God of Fortune costume as he fed the animals.

In a statement yesterday, Haw Par Corp, which operated UWS, said it was a tragic accident. "He was a veteran diver, aquarist and animal caregiver who had been caring for the aquatic animals at UWS since its opening in 1991."

His former colleagues painted a picture of a man whose passion for his job and the marine animals that he treated like his "babies" was unremitting, and who was an expert diver.

Mr Koh Leong San, 41, now a diving instructor, worked with him for about two years at UWS in 1997.

"He taught me the technicalities of diving within a confined space, of how to dive without harming the fish and the corals," he said.

He was also patient, and forgiving of mistakes, which made him a "fantastic mentor".

While the job of handling marine animals may sound dangerous to the layman, Mr Chan always put safety first, said his close friend and former colleague Jimmy Tan, who had gone on collecting trips with Mr Chan for UWS.

Mr Tan, 54, who works for a resort developer, said they had planned to go to Mr Chan's favourite diving spot, Pulau Pemanggil, an island near Mersing, Malaysia, next March. In years past, they would go there every month, he said.

Mr Chan's contract with UWS was due to end this month, according to him.

In an interview with The Straits Times in June, Mr Chan said that in four decades, he had clocked more than 5,000 dives.

On his job, he said: "Diving is relaxing and trouble-free, and working here makes me happy because I can dive every day and be with the fish."

He will be cremated on Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Manpower Ministry said it has instructed UWS to stop all activities associated with the transferring of sea animals, and that investigations are ongoing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 06, 2016, with the headline 'Diver killed by stingray: He died caring for his 'babies''. Print Edition | Subscribe