Shipping ministry warns divers, boat owners

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The Deputy Ministry of Shipping has warned boat owners, spearfishers and snorkelling divers to adhere to the rules regarding markers and buoys, following an accident in Larnaca Bay when a diver was killed by a speed boat propeller.

The ministry, which is the competent authority for regulating coastal activities and licensing pleasure boats, said it is still investigating the incident on August 16, adding it was premature to conclude if the fisherman had left a marker on the sea surface, or if it got carried away by waves.

It said: “Fatal accidents involving divers with spearguns have occurred on many occasions in the past, even when the marker was suitably used.”

The regulations of the Fisheries Department when issuing an amateur fishing license with a speargun state that a floating plastic marker, yellow or red, must be used at all times and should be visible within 300 metres, or placed on top of any accompanying floating vessel and divers should be restricted within 50m of the marker.

The victim of last Sunday’s accident did have a license, the ministry said.

It added that the rules apply to all fishers, individuals or in teams, surface or divers, with or without air cylinders.

Cyprus enjoys a highly regulated diving sector and the authorities have been encouraging the development of underwater activities to attract diving tourism.

Paphos and Ayia Napa have their underwater attractions, some with statues placed on the seabed on purpose, while the Ministry of Agriculture and the Environment sank its fifth ship of the coast of Larnaca last December to create a network of artificial reefs that will develop marine life while boosting specialised tourism.

The 63m cargo vessel, Elpida (“Hope”), was the largest ship sunk off the coast of Cyprus with similar events near Limassol, Paphos and Zygi in recent years, transforming the island into a popular destination for divers.

Until now, this specialised form of tourism was limited to the Zenobia, a Swedish cargo ferry with a full cargo of 104 tractor-trailers that sank on its maiden voyage in 1980 and lies at a depth of 42m, considered one of the top 10 wreck diving sites in the world.

“This is the sixth location designated as a Marine Protected Artificial Reef, which is expected to contribute significantly to the creation of shelters, areas for the development and sustenance of many forms of marine flora and fauna, and mainly fish,” Agriculture and Environment Minister Costas Kadis said at the time.

The Department of Fisheries is promoting the creation of artificial reefs with a budget of €2.2 mln as part of the ‘Thalassa’ programme.

With coral reefs under threat from climate change, it’s hoped that this project will allow marine life to flourish whilst also attracting divers from abroad.