I shall not write about the tired-looking resort or the food, since these have been covered by other reviews and are pretty trivial considering that most people who come here are divers and would be more concern about the dive operations and safety issues.
On the afternoon of 24th April, all 50 divers with 5 dive guides from the resort were dropped at a popular dive site despite rough conditions at sea. 4mins into the dive, we experienced one of the worst ferocious down currents that swept us from 14m to 40m in a matter of a few secs. I got hit by narcosis, hung on to corals for dear life at 40m, with bubbles blowing downwards & my mask threatening to blow off. Divers were pulled down to 50m and then shot back up to surface without safety stops because of freak up-currents at 10m. A diver said she was swept down to 52m & her dive guide went down after her to grab her. Another was pushed down to 48m and had to fin strenuously upwards with his BCD fully inflated. In the confusion, he lost his wife in the down currents and surfaced alone. Some divers were swept out 100 meters away and amidst the swells and choppy waters, there was MASS confusion, panic and chaos. Many lost their dive group and buddies and feared for their lives.
2 divers out of the 50 divers were unaccounted for, and they were only spotted later when the dive boats were on the way back to land. They were swept out to the protruding craggy rocks in the open ocean with waves pounding on them. One of them had cuts and blood all over his legs. These 2 divers were newly certified divers with only 20 dives under them. On that day, they were diving by themselves at 20m, while their group was at 40m looking for the hammerheads. How could the dive operator allow that knowing that this is a dangerous site?!
Our DM also left all her divers below and was the 3rd diver to surface on the boat, despite knowing that there were 7 more divers down below in trouble and unaccounted for. While on the dive boat, I also started to feel unwell and requested for oxygen, and found out that only 1 out of the 5 dive boats was carrying it. WT???
Dive briefings were insufficient – nothing on what would be the contingency dive plan in the event that we encountered any unpredictable currents, or how to handle it or get out of it. In fact, our DM did not go into the choppy sea to check the currents that day, instead she relied on the information from the DMs on the other boats & informed us that there will be ‘light to strong currents, and split currents’ and we will just ‘go with the flow’.
Despite knowing that there were split currents, DANGEROUS up & down currents, the DMs took ALL 50 divers into an extremely treacherous condition which could potentially be fatal. THEIR LACK OF KNOWLEDGE AND ABILITY TO ACCESS THE DIVE CONDITIONS HAVE RESULTED IN PUTTING ALL THE DIVERS IN GRAVE DANGER THAT DAY. Upon questioning the DMs, they said they were unaware and did not know the currents would be so deadly, even though this was a dive site that they bring divers to almost on a daily basis. Their answer was that they have never encountered such currents in the last 10 years, and were unable to tell from the surface of the sea. Again, a serious lack of experience & situational awareness of the local dive sites. If they were unsure then they have no business leading these dives.
Both my husband and I are very experienced and careful divers. I have been an avid diver for over 20yrs, with over 500 dives in some challenging dive conditions to know that the treacherous down current we encountered would have been fatal had not all the divers been very experienced. Fortunately most only suffered lacerations and cuts from the corals and rocks. However due to the negligence of the DMs, both my husband and myself suffered mild DCS and were unable to dive for the rest of the time we were there.
Since diving in Layang Layang often requires long deep dives in challenging and sometimes unpredictable conditions in the open ocean; and with no medical facilities available, we are shocked that the dive operator is hiring insufficient AND inexperienced dive guides to lead these challenging dives in a remote location. We are not looking for DMs to babysit the divers, but with 1 DM to 10 divers, the DMs were stretched to their limits and they were so focused on searching for the hammerhead sharks that there were serious lapses in ensuring the safety of all divers. While they were at 40m deep hunting for the hammerheads in the open blue for 30mins, divers were above anywhere from 30m - 38m by themselves as they were unable to stay deep for long. With 10 divers at various depths between 30m to 40m, it was hard to keep a group together or managed divers who encountered problems. And as proven, anything could happen while diving at that depth.
We had many divers feedback on these safety issues with real problems encountered while on the dives, and the bottom line is that the dive operator should be providing more resources especially at full capacity during the peak season where divers were charged extra for being there.
FYI – your chances of spotting a hammerhead shark is 10% even at peak season as many of the guides were too inexperienced and did not know where to spot them. 70% of the divers at the resort during the time we were there in April left feeling extremely disappointed (their stay was anywhere from 7-10days and they have seen nothing but the blue). My husband were just thankful we left without any serious injuries, forget about seeing the sharks and the high cost we’ve paid to be there for this activity. This experience was the worse diving experience we have ever encountered, ever.
We recognised that most of the DMs and resort staff are doing their best for the guests, and the key problem lies in the management. I think divers should be aware of this serious safety issue and stay away from diving with this dive resort and putting their own lives at stake until something is done to improve the dive operations there. We learnt that there was a change of management in the past years and the dive standard has dropped drastically. Spend your money elsewhere where the operator is not trying to cut cost at the expense of your safety. Absolutely not worth your time and money!