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Thai boat captain pleads “guilty” to negligence in death of joyful girl on her first scuba dive on Koh Tao.
By Ian Yarwood (Australian Lawyer)
Last Tuesday, a Thai boat captain for Pura Vida Diving pleaded guilty in the Samui Provincial Court to a charge of negligence resulting in the death of Silje Mathisen (22) from Norway.
The judgment of the court is due to be handed down on 29 March 2018. Khun Nathakorn and Silje’s parents have an opportunity over the next couple of weeks to file submissions with the court regarding sentencing and the parents can also state how Silje’s tragic death has affected their lives.
Nathakorn Meekwan was 23 when Silje suffered fatal head and leg injuries after being struck by the propeller of the boat he was driving on 22 December 2014 at Tao Tong (Gold Turtle) in Koh Tao.
It was Silje’s very first dive and like most complete novice scuba divers she experienced difficulty controlling her buoyancy.
Silje and her lifelong friend, Sigrid Simensen (also 22 at the time) were on a dive in shallow waters of about 4 to 5 metres under the control of divemaster Ricky Collins of Scuba Junction Diving. Sigrid’s father, Tore had been on the same Scuba Junction boat as the girls but was taking part in a more advanced dive and did not witness the accident.
Mr Collins was also charged with negligence but he has not yet faced trial. Silje’s parents were pushing for both the captain and the divemaster to be tried together but it appears that Mr Collins left Thailand in 2016. Reports in the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet have given two conflicting accounts of the circumstances in which he left Thailand. In one account, he was deported in March 2016 for overstaying his visa and in another account he left on 23 June 2016 after securing the return of his passport, which had previously been confiscated. (Silje’s parents have experienced great difficulty in obtaining accurate information from the Thai authorities.)
One should keep in mind at all times that Mr Collins is entitled to the presumption of innocence. In addition, given that the writer does not know his whereabouts it was not possible to obtain his version of events. With those thoughts in mind one can consider some further evidence about what transpired and the outcome of a PADI investigation.
On 26 February 2015, Mr Mike Holme (Risk Management & Industry Relations Executive of PADI Asia Pacific) sent an email to Tore Simensen informing him that, following their investigation, there would be a retraining programme for Scuba Junction staff and that Mr Collins’ continued membership was not in PADI’s best interests and that therefore he was no longer a PADI instructor.
Several witnesses including Tore Simensen, Sigrid Simensen and another diver, Philippe Coallier all maintain that Mr Collins did not use markers over the dive site.
There were a total of five people on this dive, Ricky Collins (the divemaster), Silje Mathisen (first time diver), Sigrid Simensen (first time diver), Philippe Coallier (who had about 20 dives and was not a divemaster trainee as had been reported elsewhere) and Kathleen Shannon (who also had only about 20 dives and was not a divemaster trainee). One needs at least 40 dives before being eligible to commence a divemaster training course.
The accounts of the other divers differ to some extent but are consistent on a few important points. At very much the last minute, Mr Collins declared that Philippe and Kathleen should take responsibility for the two students and Mr Collins was too far away to assist Silje when the Pura Vida boat appeared above the dive site.
Philippe Coallier states that he does not know why Mr Collins decided to apparently delegate the responsibility for Silje and Sigrid to relatively inexperienced divers namely, himself and Kathleen. He states that he is unaware as to whether Mr Collins was aware of their relatively limited experience.
As mentioned above, novice divers typically have great difficulty controlling their buoyancy. When they breathe in their lungs expand and they rise. When they breathe out their lungs contract and they sink. Sigrid reported that when she heard the Pura Vida boat it was a frightening experience. Frightened people tend to gasp or breathe in. In the circumstances, in such shallow water, Silje was probably also frightened and breathed in sending her upwards to the boat’s propellers and her death.
More detailed accounts of what transpired during the dive can be included in a later article.
Silje was not just a statistic
Sigrid Simensen (left) with Silje Mathisen enjoying lunch together on Koh Tao just 24 hours before the fatal dive. Silje and Sigrid were lifelong friends and shared a flat together in Oslo. Silje is survived by her parents and her brother.
“I arrived on Koh Tao on 21st December. I met the girls and we went for lunch/coffee. I took this picture of them .. happy and lovely close friends who grew up together all the way from kindergarten..” – Tore Simensen (Sigrid’s father)
Tore paid tribute to Silje describing her as a “joyful girl” and has stated that she was not just a number.
“I spent the last night with Silje and my daughter at Koh Tao. Silje talking about her future dreams and her life. I took the last picture of Silje with Sigrid outside Scuba Junction before we left for the dive” Tore Simensen
On the evening of the accident Sigrid and Tore visited Silje’s body in a temple on Koh Tao. It was a sharp contrast to their happy times of the previous evening.
Correspondence and conversations with Tore leaves one with the distinct impression that he, Sigrid and certainly Silje’s parents earnestly hope that the story of Silje’s tragic death will not be told in vain.
They want tourists to be made aware of how dangerous some environments can be and they want the diving industry on Koh Tao to clean up its act.
They want other families and other people to be spared the anguish they suffer.