Wednesday 29 June 2011

Abandoned Reef tourist shunted and ignored by Passions operator

28-year-old Ian Cole of Michigan, USA is disgusted at the way that a Cains-based tourist operator treated him after abandoning him to fend for himself in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef on Saturday afternoon.

"I just wanted them to do the right thing," Ian Cole told CairnsBlog. "Their actions showed that they were more interested in protecting the company's reputation than convincing me that this incident wouldn't happen again."

On Saturday June 28th, Ian Cole, who has been visiting Australia for the last six months, paid $150 for a day trip on Passions of Paradise tour. There were 70 passengers on board, however when the vessel departed the Reef and headed back to Cairns, they only had 69 on the boat.

Ian Cole of the United States told CairnsBlog he was stricken with panic when he looked up from snorkeling around Michaelmas Cay, 3pm on Saturday, in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef. He was around 50 kilometers from land and discovered his host boat was no longer there. The Passions of Paradise catamaran had left after a staff member and the boat's captain, signed off on a full passenger manifest.

"I had already been out in the water for a few hours that day," Ian Cole said. "My first thought was that I had swam the wrong direction; my second thought was sheer panic. At that point I was pretty tired, so when the horror of being left behind riddled my body. I began to struggle and started taking water in through my snorkel."

The abandoned tourist swam to Coral Sea Dreams, an overnight tour boat a 15 minute swim away from where

"I was in shock when they told me my boat had left. I thought they were kidding," Ian Cole recounts. "I nearly drowned. In my eyes, this is clearly a failure of the management to create an environment that promotes safety and competency."

Passions operations manager, Scotty Garden refused to discuss the disastrous incident yesterday.

"You'll understand that I can't talk about this at all," he told CairnsBlog, and referred my call to Col Mckenzie of the Association of Marine Park Operators for look after damage control. The response was defense and dismissive of any wrong-doing or problem with the company.

"I'm quite stunned this happened," Mckenzie said yesterday afternoon. "This is one of our flagship operators and they have a perfect record. They have recently been audited and passed with flying colours."

"It was reported to Work Place Health and Safety; to Marine Safety Queensland and a diving inspector. They did all the right things," Col Mckenzie said yesterday. "This was nothing more than a single breach by one staff member not following the rules. He was trained and passed all the tests, he just didn't do what he should have. That's all. He has paid the price and lost his job." Mckenzie was dismissive that there was any danger to the abandoned guest.

"The fact that this guy [Ian Cole] talked about this shows that he's just seeking self-exposure, and wants to be portrayed as a hero, you know, a survivor," Col Mckenzie said. "There's no lesson to be learnt from this. He is just making a mountain out of a molehill, and trying to maximize his own self-exposure. It's just bullshit. He was never in any danger. It was just like being left behind on a beach."

"I mean, his demands were unreasonable. He wanted a written apology. I think his requests were morally reprehensible," Col Mckenzie said.

Ian Cole staunchly refutes the accusation and was stunned at the defensive and complicit response from the Marine Park Operators Association spokesperson.

"His response is very upsetting. I engaged in a professional and respectful way and all I sought was for this company to do the right thing following an incident that was totally unacceptable," Ian Cole said.

The recording system that Passions of Paradise have in place to ensure all passengers are accounted for and on board, is average at best. Responsibility was vested in a single crew member to physically speak to each passenger to confirm their identity and cross them off as present on the manifest. However on Saturday's tour, this obligation was delegated to a relatively inexperienced crew member in his 20's, a backpacker from France who had only been with the company for less than six months.

Why such an integral safety check was given to inexperienced crew, who is not even native to the English language, is cause for serious concern.

Both Ocean Spirit and Sunlover reef operators confirmed with CairnsBlog that they employ dual-count system, whereby two staff members make a count that is replicated until it correlates to each other and the manifest.

Ian Cole was assigned passenger number 17. He was the only passenger named Ian and clearly the only number 17.

On the way back to shore, Passions tried to cajole Mr Cole with a free trip, and refund of his ticket and offered him "anything he'd like from the bar" including hats and t-shirts. It was a clear admission of wrong-doing.

"When I finally returned to shore and reflected on the events, I didn't hold any disdain towards Passions, but I realised that action needed to be taken," Mr Cole said. "I asked that the owners write a formal letter of apology to the events that occurred, and a detailed explanation of the new safety measures that would be implemented to prevent future tragedies like this."

"I had no interest in ruining the careers of the staff members that performed their jobs with integrity, but I needed to know that this was an isolated instance that would not happen again," Ian Cole said. "Considering the severity of this event, I think this was a simple and fair request."

Passions did not comply with Cole's request, instead they informed him that an incident report was lodged with proper authorities including their insurance company.

Company management evaded a meeting requested by Mr Cole, who waited until midnight Monday to receive a promised letter or telephone call, but nothing was forthcoming.

"I had an airline ticket booked for Brisbane on Tuesday morning that I ended up missing as I wanted to stay in Cairns until I had the letter," Cole said. "This cost me my flight. They knew this fact but I believe they deliberately delayed my request. I was told that one of the managers had an injured leg and couldn't meet."

Both directors Alan Wallish and Beau McCormack signed a letter that was left at the booking office for collection at 3pm Tuesday.
  • "Please accept this letter as an apology for your unpleasant experience on board our vessel.

    We hope that the rest of your time with us was a more positive experience and that you have been able to take away some great memories of the reef and your holiday with us."
A dinner voucher was included.

"The letter fails to deal with or acknowledge what happened," Ian Cole says. "I sought them to record the events that occurred on Saturday afternoon, and what measures they would put in place to prevent this from happening again. Frankly it is just fobbing me off."

Passions boast a Queensland Tourism Award and have won a Hall of Fame acknowledgement. Their brochure presents a line up of accolades and labels itself as "Cairns most awarded small tour operator."

The last known incidence of passengers being left behind on the Great Barrier Reef to fend for themselves was in 1998 with the infamous disappearance of Tom and Eileen Lonergan. Since that time, Cairns and Port Douglas tourist operators have come under much scrutiny to provide stringent safety standards, especially in the area of accounting for the collection and safety of passengers. It appears apathy towards safety has taken root.

The company terminated the employment of the crew member when the boat returned to Cairns on Saturday afternoon.

Queensland Workplace Health and Safety has received a report, and acknowledged there was a "incident" on the Great Barrier Reef.


Janine Aitken said...

Having worked for a company that engages Passions of Paradise for reef trips & having gone out to the reef with them on more than 50 occasions. I too am stunned, and have every confidence that not only was this an unfortunate but isolated event, but that the crew at Passions would already be holding in-depth investigations to how this occurred. Unfortunately where there are humans there will be error. I however will continue not only to use Passions myself but to recommend them to my friends & family.

KitchenSlut said...

He was 50km from land? Last time I was at Michaelmas Cay it was land. There seems to be much hyperbowl .... oops, I mean hyperbole around this account.

Nowhere does he even mention the Cay and beach. perhaps he has watched too man Hitchcock movies and has a bird phobia?

Having been to Michaelmas several times on Ocean Spirit it's difficult to believe anyone could be so unaware of the imminent departure of the boat or that there as no longer anyone else in the water? My experience is that Passions generally departs first and Ocean Spirits crew is last off the beach as I've been in that last boat a few times and can't believe a remaining snorkeller would not have been noticed? So where was he? It is one of the easiest and safest snorkelling venues there is and it's almost impossible to get lost or become disorientated.

While there has clearly been a systemic or human failure in the head count it is inconceivable to me that he couldn't have significantly contributed to his own circumstances.

Anonymous said...

McKenzie and the Association of Marine Park Operators seriously need an attitude adjustment and maybe learn some PR lessons. It may be true that Ian Cole was being unreasonable but to publicly denigrate the man in the internet age is so seriously stupid. Do dinosaurs like McKenzie realise the harm that could be done to a tourism industry that is already suffering a downturn? If this story were to go viral or get picked up by it could have serious consequences. Whether he is "right" or not, McKenzie comes across as completely arrogant.

Has anyone pointed out to Mr McKenzie that asking for a written apology is not "unreasonable" or "morally reprehensible"? "Morally reprehensible" is when you, as a mouthpiece for a whole industry, endanger business with egotistical public stupidity.

Megan Owen said...

I am perplexed at the mediocre attitude of McKenzie. One human error is all it takes for a tragedy. As a diver and snorkeller myself, Head Count seems an imperative, and easy step in conducting a dive tour. To impart any form of blame on the tourist is not retaining full accountability for the oversight by your company. I applaud the tourist for having the courage to have a voice. There is no room for error, it is simply not acceptable to accomodate sub-standard practices on a dive boat -even if just the once. I suggest swallow the criticism, and learn from it and be fully accountable.

seahare said...

It makes no difference how far land was, the fact that someone was left in the water....? Passions of Paradise and Mackenzie need to 'man up' and admit their mistake instead of blaming the victim.

Chris of Manunda said...

Chris of Manunda says,

At least he wasn't 'disposed' of like the Lonergan's for seeing something they shouldn't have

KitchenSlut said...

Who brought Mackenzie into this and in what context? I am a huge critic of Mackenzie and he is irrelevant in this.

The PR depends on how it is reported and there is much in this guys story that aligns him precisely with Mackenzie and sensationalist media over fact.

As far as I can see the mistake has been acknowledged. There has been no acknowledment at all that I can see that maybe this guy also stuffed up? Regardless of other fault there is also a responsibility on everybody to care for their own welfare rather than regardin it as somebody elses problem.

If you have been to Michaelmas this story and its repporting is simply unbelievable and fits into the same shonky journalism category as Mackenzie!

Terry, Megan and Seahare are simply seeking ideological self justification while applauding the same sensationalist media such as Mackenzie ou pretend to despise when it suits you and do yourselves no credit

nomooremike said...

Does anyone else get the feeling Kitchen Slut has an interest in this in some way, friends at Passions maybe?

I love the bit about him being able to sit on Michaelmas Cay for the night, had there not been another boat there, and that being OK because it was his own silly fault for not being counted.

He would probably have enjoyed sitting on the sand all night in the cold, dark and wet, wondering if the tide was going to come up over him, eh KS?

Marie D. Jones said...

Col Mackenzie should be fired. He is absolutely disgusting...disgusting...

"Shady" said...

Seems like Ole Mackenzie needs to be just a little more careful and not be to dismissive of the incident. The young also should had been waching out for his own welfare as well. However Mackenzie is liable for the welfare of his clients. This incident could have been tragic. Be grateful all is well.

Lyn said...

If I were that swimmer, I would have expected all he received and more, and I certainly would have made the incident public. What does Capt. Mckenzie think was offensive? Someone pointed out a BIG mistake which should never have happened.

Happy Hour...Somewhere said...

Unless I missed it, it does not say when they DID notice him missing.

EMS4 said...

What a concept, taking ownerships of ones mistakes and taking corrective action to prevent another incident, how novel. Mr. McKenzie needs a serious attitude adjustment. I think everyone would NOW like to know what they will do to prevent this from happening in the future. Having been in the fire service, accountability tags seem to work very well..

MildT said...

If I were a tour operator, I sure wouldn't want Mackenzie speaking for me. I reckon he must have taken a PR course from Prince Philip.

Anonymous said...

Being a certified Open Water and Cave Diver since the early 1980's, I have seen and heard a great deal of nonsense and bravado over the years, but the drivel out of Mckenzie, and the dereliction of Wallish and McCormack take the cake. I would never use or recommend their services even to my worst enemies if they don't mature and become more responsible than they exhibit currently.

wolf said...

Hey Kitchenslut bury yourself in the sand Passions is responible for the people they take out and bring back. They DID NOT accept any responsbly for what happened, they just laid blame on the victim. Just like you are. I wonder if you would say the same thing if happen to you? I think not. This is clearly not a respectable company. As for you you shouldnt say someone isnt or wasnt in any real danger because you have no idea what effect coming up out of the water and not seeing your boat there can do to a person. Everyone is different. What if there had been no other boat? When would someone have realized he was missing? And let's not forget the lovey fish in the water that might have made him a tasty snack! From the moment he paid them to take him out and bring him back they were completely responsible for him. And what he ask for considering that he could have done more, was very very reasonable.

PicnPac said...

I am surprised at the brazen attitude by the tour company and Mr McKenzie. If this were in America the lawyers would be having a hey day by now. Thanks goodness in Australia we solve things with an insult and a free dinner coupon.

Sanda said...

As a naturalized American citizen (living in Michigan nonetheless!), I want to say this: who is stupid deserves to die! Sorry....
Glad the American dude did not kick the bucket, but how on God's green earth did he miss the boat departure if he was only snorkeling?? Aren't the diving/snorkeling tourists required to have/wear a water resistant watch? Did he (Ian Cole) not know when the boat was supposed to leave? Again, (most) Americans are stupid!

Hans Van Veluwen said...

Sanda...your surname wouldn't be McKenzie would it?...even if Cole deliberately stayed behind it still means that the boats head count system isn't " fool proof" and that simply raises safety concerns that should be analysed and then acted upon to modify the count system to stop this happening again...simple really.
The above debates are more to do with McKenzie's attitude towards our visitors... doesn't say much about duty of care. I would have thought a simple letter of apology wasn't too much to ask for...unless the boat company thinks that it will be put in a precarious legal position by doing so..if so...then they are more concerned with insulting a client that was left behind then safety.

Randy Swyver said...

Hey Mike,
Thanks for covering the story about the Michigan snorkeler left behind by the boat he went snorkeling from, really interesting. I was saddened to see the asinine response of the socalled professional association spokesjerk, Col McKenzie. Tell him he can have a free ONEWAY tour of the Arizona desert anytime he likes, to give him an idea of just what that snorkeler felt like and to teach him that being such an asshole is exactly the way that Australians have gotten the world-wide reputation (undeserved by most Ozzies, I've found) as jerks and hooligans (worse than the Irish most Americans feel, according to several surveys I've seen of hotel and restuarant staff in a numer of US cities). It's always a few bozos like McKenzie that ruin it for everybody, isn't it.

Keep up the interesting reporting.

American snorkeler
PS: Went to Gulf of Thailand Nov 10, boat operators and crew all Ozzies, had a good time (water was cold, tho) and the guys were OK.

nomooremike said...

@ Randy Swyver .... please keep your condescending crap over that side of the Pacific, if we had anywhere near the reputation you Yanks have we'd all top ourselves.

Bill said...

I was considering a vacation to see the Great Barrier Reef and tour Cairns and spend some time in Sydney. I think I'll go back to the Bahamas again instead, at least I feel for certain I won't be abandoned to the mecry of the sea with the crews there. Having made several dive related trips to the Bahamas, I can attest for their accountability and procedures to assure an incident like this would not occur.

aprild35 said...

Is this the same col. mckenzie who is quoted regarding the missing american couple in 1998? If so, he seems a hardened man who hides his culpability with shame and discrediting the truth.

Stu Allen said...

This could have ended very differently.

Isidore Bzn said...

They usually count the number of people on board!

Colin Stewart said...

Shocking to hear this can still happen. No excuses for public safety and inexperienced staff...

Alison Alloway said...

What a dreadful experience for the poor fella!

quicken said...

While the experience of being left behind is surely scary and unpleasant it is important to keep in mind that michalmas cay is in fact a small island of sand.

With a short swim you are on dry land for a miserable, cold, hell scary night on an island. Still I'd take that option anytime over being left alone in open water as is made out in the media.

While the Tour operator is easily blamed it would be interesting to have all the facts.

I know I have personally spotted a German tourist jumping in the water from the front of the boat (staff only area) unbeknownst to the crew.

The crew looked very displeased with this fool when I escorted him to the back of the boat to sign out.

So who would be to blame here?

I guess the point is that not everything can be blamed on the operator. Your an Adult, and being an Adult means taking responsibility for your own life especially when playing in a hostile environment.

Then there still is the final head count that was messed up by Passions. Well that one is on them.

With a couple of million tourists heading out every year it's safe as safe can be. Regulations should never replace common sense.

- Make sure you let the crew know where you are and what you plan to do.
- Have a partner / buddy look out for you.
- Check your watch and be back on time.
- When the friggen loud boat fog horn sounds that's a hint that something is going on and it's time to get your ass back on the boat.

Sandra-SF said...

McKenzie's comments are reflective of his lack of a duty of care, which he owes to the customers whose money he takes. He chose to operate this commercial business for profit. If he wants to operate this type of business then he assumes the risks associated with it. He owes a duty of care to those whose lives he takes in his hands along with their money. He is lucky the outcome was not worse and that he was only requested to take action to prevent future incidents - something that is in all of our best interests.

Sandra in SF

Michael said...

Amazingly, here is McKenzie's comments in 1988, which show how adroit he was in PR back then, too:

To date, McKenzie insists the Lonergans are still alive. "Most marine experts, myself included, feel that the Lonergans are not dead," says Col McKenzie.

Hans Van Veluwen said...

I think responsibility, customer service and decency has gone out the door in the tourism industry.

Dennis Jordan said...

Col Mckenzie could quite possibly be the stupidest man in all of Australia. Any grown adult knows that if you run a business, and you just about kill your client, you get on your damn knees and stay there. In the Internet age, it's twice as important to show that you screwed up. Maybe your training was inadequate, maybe your 70-2 ratio was inadequate -- regardless, you nearly killed a client. Apologize. Promise change. Provide compensation. Every hour that you swagger, 2 million more people will read how stupid you are.

J.L said...

I have been to Michealmas Cay and would not rate anywhere near like what the Lonergans went through. They would have survived had it been there plus the Passions boat may have further passenger checks before closing up for the night. So zero proof he was ever in any danger. It would have been quite traumatic, well very, and I understand the man's hysteria but the media has truly been shocking in sensationalising it, The company is a well known highly respected outfit so not sure what screaming about it all over place does? It hurts the region industry, it hurts a very well company just so this blog and other media gets clicks. The industry here is well known for being over the top with rules and that in itself hurts business. Also how more nanny state can we become, should we tether passengers to the boat? there should be a public right or reason to know, not just cheap pots at a suffering industry. I have seen no proof the procedures are lacking, seen no proof his life was in danger and no proof he would have been abandoned for any great amount of time. Truly dreadful press we have, no wonder Americans go to war on lies..they will believe anything.

nomooremike said...

@ JL

Another industry insider?

"So zero proof he was ever in any danger."

No thanks to Passions, and if there hadn't been another boat there, he would have been there all night, pure luck that it was at the Cay.

"The company is a well known highly respected outfit so not sure what screaming about it all over place does? It hurts the region industry, it hurts a very well company"

It's not the "screaming about it" that hurt the region, or the company, it was the attitude of those responsible.

"I have seen no proof the procedures are lacking"

There's no doubt which of the three monkeys you are!

Unknown said...

The poor bloke was given short shrift on 4 CA today (the other Mckenzie) by none other than tireless, spineless, backstabbing "MARG", who told the guy that he should move forward and that he was alive and that nothing had happened to him and to stop complaining.

McKenzie had already hung up on him by then.

I don't know what the truth of the story is, but I do know that it has been handled very poorly.

J.L said...

See Mike, You make assumptions without proof. I am NOT in the dive boat industry AT ALL. Tta is a very childish response to be honest. An Irish girl dies in the Whitsundays after becoming separated from the group just last month or so. Check the media coverage to see how sensible media coverage is done. Also an Australian died last month in PNG. There are risks involved everywhere. These people actually died yet there is nowhere near the level of childish histronics that surround this story. It is demands to childproof everything that drive us further and further in nanny state death spiral. There are loads of controls plus PERSONAL responsibility required. If peole wnat 100% guarantee whatever they do then eorhaps never leave home and stop making life so pathetic for the majority.

KitchenSlut said...

Kitchenslut always hates to disappoint but is sorry, nomorebrains, that he has no kind of association whatsoever with Passsions of Paradise or anyone involved with reef tourism. He did however, at a time past, have an intimate interlude with a previous partner of the Mckenzie here referred to. Does shagging Col's ex count?

Kitchenslut is contemplating the commercial potential of a 'Michaelmas Cay Survival Guide' and given the delusion displayed in many forums anticipates strong online sales from the USA. Giver the profligate sea and bird life at Michaelmas there has been a recipe suggestion already of seaweed smoked whole common noddy chicks provided dry sticks and driftwood can ignite fire. Absent a flame, a rare ommlette of sooty tern eggs plated on a clam shell with garnish of green turtle droppings has been suggested?

While thankful for the suggestion of burying himself in sand, Kitchenslut would like to clarify that he indeed agrees that Passions had a responsibilty to not leave absent Mr Cole, and that a review of adequacy of procedures is essential. Kitchenslut also understands that it must have been a distressing experience for Mr Cole to spend a lonely night on Michaelmas even if his life was not threatened. However, Kitchenslut remains unconvinced that the tale as related is as yet complete and that there are always personal responsibilities albeit this does not remove responsibilty for Passions to take all passengers home no matter how tiresome they may be!

Kitchenslut's experience is as a frequent visitor to Michaelmas on his Ocean Spirit's locals card. In the cairnsblog photo Ocean Spirits is the boat towards the bottom with permanently Moored (sic) submersible sub and beach transfer craft nearby. Passions of Paradise is the boat towards the top. The snorkelling area for both is the dark patch of reef between Passions and the Cay. There is no snorkelling south of that where Ocean Spirits transfer passengers to the Cay by boat.

Both boats have lifeguard lookouts. Typically, Passions departs first. Ocean Spirits still has a team on the beach and the lifeguard in rubber ducky will roundup any stray snorkellers for transfer back to the boat. Any remaining snorkellers if they have remained within the area instructed are visible at the surface. So it is reasonable to ask the quebnstion as KS has: "where the bloody hell were ya?"

Kitchenslut notes the subsequent update on Cairnsblog and suggests that the story, as reported, is clearly incomplete on all sides? It is still unclear what boats and people were still there and how Cole appears to have missed the boat by so long and people around him leaving? That does NOT absolve Passions for responsibility for leaving the Cay without Mr Cole.

Syd Walker said...

"The fact that this guy [Ian Cole] talked about this shows that he's just seeking self-exposure, and wants to be portrayed as a hero, you know, a survivor"

That is a classic style in PR. Trash the victim. With attitude like that Col Mackenzie should be working at the White House.

Leah said...

"I asked that the owners write a formal letter of apology to the events that occurred, and a detailed explanation of the new safety measures that would be implemented to prevent future tragedies like this."

While I agree the guy deserves a formal apology, the idea that they should details new safety measures is stupid. The safety measures they have are fine. The problem is that one of the employees did not stick to the safety measures. That's like someone breaking the speed limit and killing a person, so then we say the speed limit should be dropped. No - because if the person had stuck to the speed limit there wouldn't have been a problem. In the same way, if this employee had stuck to the company's safety measures, everything would have been fine. Sack the employee, yes. Change the safety requirements? No.

Hans Van Veluwen said...

Stupid Leah?..
1. The boat left without him
2. Perhaps having the captain of the boat double checking that everyone is signed in again would help...a measure that could possibly stop a re occurrence of this incident.
3. No matter what you think of Cole or the boat company...the Company is still responsible for returning to Cairns with all clients.

a lot of vitriol has been spouted here..we could turn this into a win / win situation. Nuff said.

Flynn said...

I went for a trip today to the outer reef for the first time with Silversonic and they had two people doing a count which I feel is almost sufficient however we all know people are fallible and freak events do occur. My view is that the risk should be as close to zero as possible. Someone needs to develop a compulsory electronic bracelet checkin system that folks must use to exit and enter doorways on large vessels as a supplement to measures already in place. Whilst I agree there is a combination of irresponsibility on both sides and an extremely poorly handled response from the operator, we really need something better than a bit of luck to avoid this happening again.
Profits must never compromise safety and if left to a mad race to the bottom, it will result in future tragedies no matter what industry you're involved with. /end workcover inspector rant

quicken said...

No thanks to more baby sitting. The last thing I want is even more bullshit babysitting in this or any other country.

The bracelet idea is just stupid and completely unnecessary. It will make people even more complacent.


If you don't accept the risk of playing in nature just go to sea world or rent a reef dvd. Leave the cool stuff to us Adults and don't restrict us with your fake angst.