Man drowned after falling overboard in fishing trip, coroner urges safe boating practices – CNA

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SINGAPORE: A coroner has highlighted the need for safe boating practices after a man fell crazy and drowned in the sea near Pulau Bukom during a fishing trip.

Mr Lau Kuan Tek, an IT firm operator, died in hospital aged 45 on Jan 30 last year.

State Coroner Adam Nakhoda ruled his death a misadventure, stressing the importance with regard to boaters on pleasure craft to wear life jackets especially if they cannot swim or are not strong swimmers.

Boaters should also ensure that safety equipment like life outdoor jackets and life buoys are easily accessible and ready regarding immediate use, and ensure that they are very familiar with emergency procedures, he said.

The boatman has been fined by the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) intended for contraventions including using his pleasure craft for commercial use and failing to ensure that life buoys were easily accessible.

The court heard that Mr Lau had gone on a fishing trip with his sister’s friend, named in court documents only as Madam Lily, her two sons and the particular boatman, named only as Mr Tan.

The boating party boarded the vessel, an open sampan-type speedboat, at the Small Boat Jetty at Pandan River on the afternoon of Jan 30, 2021.

The particular boatman dropped anchor at a fishing spot near Terumbu Pempang Tengah, which is near Jurong Island and next to Pulau Bukom, at about 5. 30pm.

Mr Lau stood at the stern of the boat preparing bait or lures for fishing, along with his back to the sea. He bent down and straightened up, but lost his balance and toppled into the sea. The boatman told Mr Lau to swim back in order to the boat, but Mister Lau shook his head, indicating that he could not really swim.

Mdm Lily saw Mr Lau swallowing water, and  shouted in the boatman to use a hook pole or fishing net pole to reach Mr Lau, but the boatman said they were too short. He held out a fishing rod and Mr Lau grabbed it, but it separated into two.

Meanwhile, Mdm Lily and the girl two sons were trying to release the life buoy secured to the canopy’s metal poles, but they had difficulty doing so.

By the time the life buoy was released, Mr Lau experienced drifted about five to six metres away from the boat. Mdm Lily’s two sons, aged 13 and 11, jumped into the water to retrieve Mr Lau. Together with the boatman and Mdm Lily, they managed in order to hoist Mr Lau back onto the boat.

However, Mr Lau had drinking water flowing from his mouth. Mdm Lily performed chest compressions on him, assisted by the boatman, but he could not be revived.

Mr Tan moved the boat in search of help. Mdm Lily’s son called 995, and the party was instructed to head to the Republic of Singapore Yacht Club.

An ambulance arrived in 6. 20pm and Mister Lau was taken in order to hospital. He could not be revived and died about an hour later. An autopsy confirmed that he had died from drowning.

The investigating officer from MPA stated the primary cause of Mr Lau’s drowning was their fall overboard and his “inability to swim”.  

The officer said Mister Lau lacked situational awareness of the hazards of the sea, resulting in him standing on his seat close to the gunwale, and their sudden movement of straightening from a stooped position that caused him to lose his balance.

The officer said that the drowning may have been averted if Mr Lau had been wearing a life jacket.

Nevertheless, Mr Lau’s wife testified that her husband has been “an average swimmer”. She said her husband had been an avid fisherman plus usually carried with your pet an inflatable life jacket in a pouch when fishing, but he got not taken it along with him that day.

CONCERNS OF THE DECEASED’S WIFE

Mr Lau’s wife raised several concerns during the coroner’s inquiry.

These include: That none of the passengers were offered life overcoats even after Mdm Lily asked for them, that the particular life buoys were not easily deployable and did not have a rope attached to them, that the boatman did not jump in to the sea to assist in rescuing her husband despite knowing how in order to swim, that there was no radio on the boat to call to get assistance as well as the boatman did not deploy a signal flare and that the boat was not licensed to carry fare-paying passengers.

In response to the concerns of Mr Lau’s wife, the MPA investigating official stated that there was no requirement for passengers on a pleasure craft to wear life jackets. There is also no requirement for the boatman to give passengers a safety briefing before setting off, nor a requirement that skippers be proficient in cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

On whether the boatman should have jumped into the ocean to rescue Mr Lau, the officer stressed that will “nobody is supposed in order to jump (into the sea) and pick them up, that’s not the way”.

The instruction for the skipper not to go into the sea to rescue a man overboard is consistent with the practice of the Red Cross of America. The particular mandate is to “reach or throw, don’t go” – so that the particular rescuer remains safe.

After the incident, MPA gave recommendations to prevent future similar incidents. The authority recommended that boaters become encouraged to wear existence jackets, especially when there has been an increased risk associated with falling overboard.

As part of this recommendation, port inspectors on patrol were briefed on the importance of wearing life jackets and sharing this safety measure with boaters.

MPA also carried out safety briefing sessions and used case studies to inform boaters to strongly encourage travellers to wear a life coat.

LAPSES ON THE BOAT

The boat had been equipped with the required number of life jackets plus life buoys, but the life jackets are not fitted with self-igniting lights, and the location of the particular life jackets was not really clearly marked. They had been also not evenly distributed throughout the boat.

The life buoys were not marked with the boat’s licence quantity and were not found ready for immediate use in an easily accessible position. The boat had been also not equipped with a VHF radio.

The coroner said that the ideal course of events once the boatman thought Mister Lau could not swim, was to first throw the life buoy to him.

He should have then cut the anchor rope plus driven the boat because close to Mr Lau as possible to rescue him.

The coroner said that what Mdm Lim’s sons, aged 13 and 11, did was “extremely brave and laudable”, but emphasised that it was furthermore “potentially a very hazardous risk”.  

“In these situations the primary method to save a person who is in trouble in the water, would be to throw out a flotation device, bring the boat next to the person and then pull your pet onto the boat, not to jump in and try to save them, ” he said.

The particular boatman testified that he used the boat from least six times a week for leisure fishing, and had taken his friends along with him since 2019.

This individual usually charged S$70 per person as he provided bait, ice, snacks, drinks and to defray the cost of petrol. He claimed that he did not really realise he was not allowed to collect money from passengers that he took out.

MPA took action against the boatman pertaining to various contraventions. He paid a fine of S$500 for flouting regulations, including for failing to make sure life jackets were properly stored and life buoys were ready for immediate make use of.  

He was fined another S$150 for using his pleasure craft, which was only licensed meant for private use, for industrial purposes.

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