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Supervisor, employer found guilty over death of diver sucked into ship porthole underwater

SINGAPORE — Almost six years after a commercial diver died in a tragic underwater incident, his employer and its assistant diving supervisor on Monday (Feb 3) were found guilty of safety-related offences in relation to his death.

Supervisor, employer found guilty over death of diver sucked into ship porthole underwater

The deceased diver Kwok Khee Khoon's employer Underwater Contractors Pte Ltd and its assistant diving supervisor David Ng Wei Li will be sentenced on April 9.

SINGAPORE — Almost six years after a commercial diver died in a tragic underwater incident, his employer and its assistant diving supervisor on Monday (Feb 3) were found guilty of safety-related offences in relation to his death.

On June 4, 2014, 36-year-old Kwok Khee Khoon was working with other divers on the underside of a container ship docked near Marina South Pier when he was sucked into a sea chest.

A sea chest — also known as a porthole — is a part of the ship’s hull that directs sea water into a ship to cool the engine or for sanitation, among other purposes. Any appliances or systems that run on electricity will not work if the sea chest is turned off.

The sea chest pumps were in reduced flow and not turned off that day, even though Kwok’s firm — Underwater Contractors Pte Ltd — said in its risk assessment that a captain or chief engineer should shut them down, given the danger of divers being sucked in.

On Monday, the assistant diving supervisor, David Ng Wei Li, 36, was convicted of one charge of performing a negligent act endangering the safety of others under the Workplace Safety and Health Act.

The firm Underwater Contractors was convicted of failing to provide adequate safety measures under the same Act.

Ng testified that as they were underwater, he turned and saw Kwok “being sucked into the pipe orifice”. After several failed attempts to pull him away, he was eventually removed and taken on board a workboat after the pumps were shut down.

Kwok was pronounced dead by paramedics at about 7.30pm, with the cause of death being traumatic asphyxia or suffocation.

That fateful day, Ng had led a briefing with Kwok and four other divers, instructing them to perform underwater survey works under the MV Frisia Kiel vessel. It was anchored at the Eastern Working Anchorage.

Ng told the divers to approach the sea chest box with caution, even though he was aware that the starboard sea chest pumps were in reduced flow and it was possible for the divers to be sucked in.

During the trial, he argued that someone on the ship had increased the pumps’ suction without notice, causing Kwok to be sucked in. The prosecution said that there was "no credible basis" for this.

Ng also testified that it was common to perform underwater survey works when sea chest pumps were in reduced flow, though he admitted that it was his first time doing so. 

He argued in his defence that he ensured that necessary precautions were taken. These included asking divers to check for suction before approaching the sea chest.

But the prosecution said that there was no dispute that the safest manner of performing the diving works that day was to completely shut down the pipes in the sea chest that the divers worked in.

Ng and the company are set to be sentenced on April 9. Underwater Contractors could be fined up to S$500,000, while Ng could be jailed up to two years, fined up to S$30,000 or both.

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court crime shipping diver death

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