Questions over kayaking mishap

 The bright green kayak that Mdm Puah Geok Tin, 57 and Mr Tan Eng Soon, 62, were last seen in before they were separated from their group in the Endau waters at Mersing on Aug 8.
The bright green kayak that Mdm Puah Geok Tin, 57 and Mr Tan Eng Soon, 62, were last seen in before they were separated from their group in the Endau waters at Mersing on Aug 8.PHOTO: ST FILE

The case of the two Singaporean kayakers who went missing off Mersing has cast a gloom over the kayaking fraternity.

I am an avid kayaker, a kayaking coach, and paddled on an eight-day expedition from Pulau Tioman to Singapore many years ago.

Like many Singaporeans, I had held out hope that the two missing kayakers would be rescued, but the discovery of Madam Puah Geok Tin's body dashed that, and the fate of Mr Tan Eng Soon looks grim.

Many questions come to mind regarding what happened to the duo.

Should a kayak capsize, kayakers are taught to stay with their boats, which have built-in buoyancy to give them added flotation and slow their drift until help arrives. That Madam Puah's body was discovered many nautical miles away from the kayak does not suggest this is what happened.

Also, an excursion group typically paddles in a rough formation, which is smaller during foul weather. Did this happen in this case?

Were there risk assessment protocols, such as, for example, what to do during foul weather at sea?

If the kayakers were far apart from one another, what was the mode of communication to alert others in the event of a kayak capsizing?

How was the role of the safety boat deployed?

Were the kayakers and organisers adequately equipped, both in terms of skill and equipment, for a five-day expedition in open waters?

All of these are critical questions that should be considered for future expeditions organised by interest groups and institutions.

Kayaking is still a safe sport, widely promoted in schools and among the public.

It has benefits for social and individual well-being, and its fatality rate is much lower than that of most outdoor sports.

It is a rewarding and enjoyable experience as long as risks are mitigated through thorough planning.

Chen Ching Chion

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 20, 2019, with the headline 'Questions over kayaking mishap'. Print Edition | Subscribe