Company fined $125,000 over death of former diver who drowned at work

An engineering company has been fined $125,000 after one of its divers drowned.
An engineering company has been fined $125,000 after one of its divers drowned.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An engineering company has been fined $125,000 after one of its divers drowned after being sent to clean the hull of a crude oil tanker.

Mr Thangaraj Ramesh, a former Indian navy diver, was working on the MV Kokkari when he went missing underwater on May 12, 2012. His body was found two days later off the eastern coast of Singapore by the Police Coast Guard.

Cutech Marine Services admitted to one charge of breaching the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

The court on Tuesday (Jan 12) heard that on the day of the incident, a colleague, Mr Praveen Kumar, also an Indian national, then 21, was assigned as Mr Thangaraj's diving buddy, whose job was to help in an emergency.

At about 1.30pm, Mr Praveen surfaced as he had cuts on his head, and the air supply in his underwater breathing apparatus (Scuba) was running low.

He had signalled to Mr Thangaraj to also return to the surface, by giving him four squeezes on the forearm.

The latter returned the signal and indicated for Mr Praveen to surface first. Mr Thangaraj then turned on a brush kart machine, which is used to clean ship hulls, and continued his work.

No other buddy diver was sent to help Mr Thangaraj, even though this was a required safety procedure.

At about 1.55pm, a diving supervisor employed by Cutech, Mr Gurusamy Rajmohan, realised that Mr Thangaraj had not surfaced.

Mr Gurusamay, then 36, and also a retired Indian navy diver, sent Mr Praveen back into the water to look for him. A subsequent search operation was also unsuccessful.

Ministry of Manpower prosecuting officer Delvinder Singh said Cutech had failed to follow the Singapore Standard Code of Practice for Commercial Diving. The company had failed to provide two-way communication between its divers and those on the surface.

It had also failed to fit its divers with a lifeline, an emergency supply of breathing air and full face masks for use with a Scuba apparatus.

The use of scuba gear is also meant only for single dives for inspection or for light work of short duration. Surface-supplied diving equipment, which provides divers with an unlimited supply of air, should instead be used for occupational diving operations.

Mr Singh urged the court to impose a fine of at least $130,000, saying the lapses showed "a shocking disregard for safety". "A repeat of a case of this nature must never occur again," he said.

In mitigation, Cutech's lawyer Looi Wan Hui said the company had admitted to both civil and criminal liability early, and paid compensation of $140,000. The company has since also put in place measures "to ensure that such a breach would not happen again". It also stopped commercial diving operations after the incident and has acquired a specialised diving company.

Mr Looi asked the court for a fine in the range of $20,000 to $50,000.

Before passing sentence, District Judge Ronald Gwee said: "All industries (that do dangerous work) have to realise... that there is no shortcut to safety... people's lives are at stake."

For failing to take necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of its employees at work, Cutech could have been fined up to $500,000.

Underwater Shipcare, which engaged Cutech to carry out the hull cleaning works, is facing a charge of failing to take necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of its subcontractors.

Mr Gurusamy left the country before investigations could be completed.