More older people dying on reef


An 82-year-old British tourist drowned while snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef shortly after assuring worried cruise ship staff he was fine and wished to continue his swim.

Police said the man was travelling with his partner on an over-50s, round-the-world cruise on the ship Saga Rose, which was anchored near Hamilton Island, when the accident happened.

Tour staff noticed the man experiencing breathing difficulties while snorkelling around Dumbell Island about 12.20pm (AEST) yesterday.

But when questioned, he told staff he was fine and wanted to continue snorkelling, police said.
He was found unconscious in the water a short time later.

Despite attempts at resuscitation, the man was pronounced dead at the Hamilton Island Medical Centre.

The cause of death is not yet known, with a post-mortem examination to be carried out later this week.

But Dive Queensland spokesman Col McKenzie said the industry was seeing a trend of older people experiencing heart attacks and other medical problems while diving on the reef, with an average age of death of 61.

He said the industry was well equipped with safety gear, including many boats carrying their own defibrillators.

But 100 per cent safety could never be guaranteed, he said.

” mean, the reality of having older people going out and enjoying the Barrier Reef – some of them will still die,” Mr McKenzie said.

He said while lessons had to be learned from every fatality, some deaths could not be prevented.

“We’ve got an incredibly safe industry when you consider we take a couple of million people a year to the Barrier Reef,” Mr McKenzie said.

“But by the same token, it is an adventurous activity – it does require a bit of physical activity once you get in the water and sometimes that’s just a bit much for some people.”

According to Saga’s website, the ship left England on January 5 and docked in Sydney on Friday.

Captain Alistair McLundie reported on his weblog on Friday he was looking forward to the Whitsundays visit.

“It is full steam ahead as we continue on this world cruise, taking fond memories of our stay in Sydney with us,” he said.

“So now I am looking forward to our weeks ahead.”

Comment was being sought from Saga.