Cape Town -
Shark cage diving boats no longer went out in swells of 4m or bigger after a vessel had capsized nearly six years ago, a skipper testified on Wednesday.
Three tourists died off Kleinbaai on April 13, 2008, including American Chris Tallman whose widow is suing for $2.2 million (about R24m) in damages in the Western Cape High Court.
Philip Colyn, who had skippered a different vessel, White Pointer, that day, testified that the swell in the Geldsteen area near Dyer Island had been about 4m, which he described as “quite a big swell”.
He had seen Shark Team, the boat that later capsized, in a prime spot near a reef that had a lot of submerged rocks around it.
Colyn said it was “pretty safe” to go shark cage diving that day if you stayed in deeper water away from the reef.
When there was a swell running, he said, there was always a possibility of a wave breaking in shallower places.
Some of the waves he had seen that day he had seen only two or three times in a season.
Colyn said he had not seen waves such as those since 2008, and when advocate David Melunsky, acting for Tallman’s widow, Sarah Tallman, asked him why that was so, he said: “If there are swells of 4m, we don’t go out any more.” He did not, however, specify whether all shark cage diving businesses and vessels fell in line with that practice.
Under cross-examination by advocate Michael Wragge SC – acting for the three defendants, including the skipper and shark cage diving business White Shark Projects – Colyn acknowledged that he, too, had anchored in that prime spot, but only when the conditions had been right.
This meant that the sea had to be flat, although a swell of about 1m would also be fine, he said.
According to Colyn, there had “obviously” been a reef in front of the spot occupied by Shark Team because, in his experience, a wave would break on or behind a reef or pinnacle.
When Wragge put it to him that the defendants’ experts would testify that there was a direct relation between a wave breaking and the depth of the water, Colyn said he was not a wave expert and that he could only speak from his experience at sea.
Wragge also questioned him over whether he knew there was a reef close to where Shark Team had anchored.
Colyn replied that it was difficult for him to say whether there was a reef in that exact spot.
Wragge said Grant Tuckett, who had skippered Shark Team, would give evidence that the vessel had been off the reef that day.
Colyn said he could not say where Tuckett had been.
Wragge also put it to Colyn that Tuckett would say he never took Shark Team out in swells in excess of 4m.
“Prior to the accident, we all went out in those conditions,” Colyn responded.
The hearing continues.