24 February 2012 09:15
LARNACA - Repercussions from the October 2010 death of a scuba diver at the Zenobia wreck off the coast of Larnaca this week prompted the Cyprus Ports Authority to forbid diving there and in any area under its jurisdiction.
Briton Catherine Vicar was pronounced dead in hospital after entering the wreck during a dive, becoming the fifth person to have been killed at the Zenobia since it sank in 1980.
Experts believe Vicar became disoriented inside the wreck, which rests on its side, and panicked after not being able to find her way out.
The Ports Authority’s decision to forbid scuba diving in the areas it is legally responsible for -- including the Zenobia as it falls within three nautical miles of Larnaca harbour -- has been criticised by the Tourism Development and Promotion of Larnaca Association, Larnaca Municipality and the Cyprus Dive Centre Association (CDCA.)
Speaking to The Cyprus Weekly yesterday, Cyprus Ports Authority general manager Yiannakis Kokkinos said the decision followed advice from the Authority’s legal counsel after members of Vicar’s family began questioning the Authority’s responsibility in her death.
“Her family and her mother in particular have been writing and asking questions. Basically they are trying to hold the Authority responsible,” Kokkinos said.
Anyone wishing to dive in the Ports Authority-controlled areas will now have to obtain special permission to do so. However, the framework for the issuing of such permits does not yet exist.
“We are discussing the formation of the necessary framework with the government,” Kokkinos said, adding that he could “not yet answer” whether permission will eventually be granted to dive centres only or also to individual divers, nor which government body would be issuing the permits.
While the CDCA received written notification of the ban on Monday, Kokkinos could not say if any more efforts would be made to inform individual divers of the policy change would be undertaken. He also confirmed that any other wrecks falling within the Ports Authority jurisdiction were also affected by the policy change but that wrecks further offshore were not affected.
Also speaking to the paper yesterday, CDCA President Andy Varoshiotis said his association had been informed of the change by fax on Monday.
“It came out of the blue, we had not been informed that this was even being considered,” he said, adding that the CDCA had taken measures to warn divers of the dangers following Vicar’s death, including making proposals on how further deaths could be avoided and putting up signs.
“It was a very tragic and we have every sympathy for the loss of life but this decision by the Cyprus Ports Authority is something that will be very destructive to Cyprus’ tourism product,” Varoshiotis said.
He said divers were left in limbo because they now faced jail time and/or fines if they chose to ignore the Authority’s decision, but had no way to request permission to dive in the off-limit waters until provisions were made in the law for the creation of an application procedure.
“We are preparing a reaction to this decision,” he added.
The Tourism Development and Promotion of Larnaca Association, Larnaca Municipality and CDCA, and other involved parties, have also asked the Authority’s to lift the ban, at least until other options have been discussed.