Diving into new standards

Pictures by: 
Gary Goh
Report by: 
Ng Jun Sen

Cold, saline water greeted his wetsuit while the cage he is in plunges into the sea.

Carrying more than 27kg of the diving equipment, Filipino Ro Galeno, 38, descended nearly 30m onto the seabed, just 1km off the Singapore coast of Pulau Sudong.

“Fun. The water’s clear today, that’s good,” said Mr Galeno of the experience.

This is not the first time he has done a commercial dive.

It’s just like any other that he has done over the past four years, repairing ship hulls and doing welding work underwater.

Except that after he completes this commercial diving course, Mr Galeno will be one of 28 other divers in the course to be certified under a local Workplace Safety and Health (WSH) Council diving standard.

They will be the first divers ever to attain this standard, which qualifies them for all diving work within Singapore.

Last week, The New Paper reported that many marine companies did not abide by the standard, a code of practice licensed by Spring Singapore in 2005.

The lack of training options also compounded the problem.

But the WSH Council has since accredited training provider KB Associates to assess and qualify experienced commercial divers to the local standard.

Known as an assessment-only pathway (AOP), assessors will be present to grade trainees according to the criteria set out by WSH Council.

The programme is still not available to the public, but a council spokesman said a full training programme will be launched in phases by 2014.

For now, only commercial diving contractor Mencast Subsea, with 40 divers in its staff, has conducted the AOP.

Said KB Associates director of operations Colin Alexander: “Right now, the instructors we have are trained in overseas qualifications, but we want to train a batch of local diving instructors qualified to teach the course.”

When diving specialist Alan Hardy came to Singapore from the UK two years ago, it was a shock for him to discover that the commercial diving standards here were poor.

The assessor for the AOP said: “It’s awful, considering that Singapore has more than 40 years of maritime history and leads the world in several marine industries.”

Commercial Diving Association (Singapore) chairman Edwin Tan, who represents the commercial diving industry here, said: “In the end, we want to reach the best industry standards, such as the one used by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP).”

OGP standards are used by large marine companies such as Shell, ExxonMobil and BP, which will refuse to hire any commercial divers that do not meet the standard.

The local standards are still less stringent than the OGP ones, said Mr Tan.

Mencast Subsea health and safety manager Abdul Malik said: “Multinational companies like Shell have continuously encouraged us to attain greater standards. “That’s why we have to carry out training programmes like this in the first place.”

The article related to these pictures was first published in The New Paper on November 18, 2013.