Dive boat master surrenders credential after loss of passenger

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(LOS ANGELES) — Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach investigators concluded administrative enforcement action in a case involving a local dive boat operator, resulting in the voluntary surrender of the operator’s merchant mariner credential to the Coast Guard.

The case stemmed from a casualty aboard the 43-foot commercial passenger vessel Sundiver Express, operating out of Long Beach. Under the direction and control of Kyaa Heller, Sundiver Express departed from a dive site off Catalina Island on Dec. 29 while a dive passenger was unaccounted for after entering the water for a recreational dive.

A search-and-rescue effort ensued when the passenger, Laurel Silver-Valker, was later discovered missing from the vessel at the next dive site. Silver-Valker was never located and is presumed deceased.

Following an investigation, the Coast Guard filed an administrative complaint seeking revocation of Heller’s merchant mariner credential with six alleged offenses, including one count of negligence for failing to maintain proper passenger accountability, and five counts of misconduct related to the operation of a commercial vessel. In lieu of appearing at a suspension and revocation hearing before a federal administrative law judge, Heller elected to voluntarily surrender her merchant mariner credential to the Coast Guard on June 6. By surrendering her credential, Heller is no longer authorized to serve as master of a commercial vessel.

“This is a tragic case, and our hope is that the small passenger vessel community, and in particular, dive boat operators, take some important lessons from this case to prevent such an incident from ever happening again. There is no excuse for departing a dive site without confirming all passengers are on board and accounted for,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Menefee, senior investigating officer, Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. “Passenger vessel operators must take the role and responsibility of master seriously, as the safety of their passengers is in their hands. The responsibility of a master cannot be delegated.”

Coast Guard suspension and revocation proceedings are administrative in nature, and are intended to maintain standards of competence and conduct necessary to minimize loss of life, personnel injury, property damage, and environmental harm on the high seas and upon U.S. waters. Following the casualty, Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach released a marine safety bulletin reminding all small passenger vessel operators of the importance of passenger accountability. The safety bulletin can be found here: http://go.usa.gov/chwjH

By Professional Mariner Staff