Bad breathing gas on liveaboard trip

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DrWilliam

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I recently disembarked from a week-long liveaboard trip with a major international liveaboard franchise.

All divers were breathing EAN at 31-32%.

On day 3 of diving, we went out on tenders to begin diving for the day and one diver pointed out that the air tasted and smelled bad. I along with several others, including the divemaster, also noted it, stating “smells like rubber” or “tastes like plastic”.” I noted it too and declared that me and my buddy would not make the dive. Divemaster was hesitant and seemed to leave it up to individuals / group, and after a short discussion and more people noticing the smell, everyone agreed to return to boat and investigate the issue. Two other tenders dropped divers and those dives continued for full dives (they were not recalled).

After the other tenders divers surfaced most of those divers agreed that they had noted bad air taste during the dive and one person had aborted. One or two thought they had mild issues with headaches. The head dive master and engineer investigated the system and declared all was well and filters clean and re-filled the tanks. The air had the exact same smell / taste. Dives continued and most made the next dive, noting dry mouth, and other non-specific but non-severe symptoms. This was also the last planned dive for the day, and the head dive master informed us all that they would fix the problem and go through the entire system that evening.

The next morning the report was that the whole compressor system had been inspected and filters all replaced and the air was “much better.” It was left up to each diver to test their air (by breathing / smelling it) and make their own decision about continued diving. Ours was foul and we did not dive. The head dive master dove with a group and surfaced after a few minutes with his group, but the other tenders continued their dives (were again not recalled even after the head divemaster had aborted due to bad gas). One diver pointed out the filter disk of his recently serviced first stage was discolored yellow.

After this dive, the staff informed us that the trip must be cut short and there would be no further diving. No cause was ever identified or explained to us.

First, what do you think of the approach taken by the staff in regard to this problem? I am very concerned about the approach to safety that occurred.

Second, for those with knowledge of compressors and scuba breathing gas, what could have caused this problem?

Third, we missed 50% of the planned dives and were exposed to bad breathing gas (some multiple times). I am wondering what people would have expected to occur in this instance? And what kind of recompense we should expect from the charter company? How would you approach this issue with the company?
 

Jonn

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Random small molecules responsible for a bad smell are a problem, but it’s odourless monoxide that will actually kill you. Did the capability to test for it exist on the boat? That’s the sort of thing a commercial fill station (like this totally is!) should be able to do… As for fixing the problem changing all the filters is probably as deep as they should have gone, rebuilding the compressor itself would be awkward to do at sea. Bummer your vacation was canceled, engineering problems can never be entirely prevented, is your operator making it right financially?
 

also_anon_dc

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And what kind of recompense we should expect from the charter company? How would you approach this issue with the company?
I would ask for a full refund initially with the expectation of negotiation. I'd hope for 30-50% refund (or credit towards a future trip).

I would also want the company to follow-up afterwards and let me know what the cause was and how they plan to avoid/prevent it in the future. If none of that is offered, I'd name names and write bad reviews frankly. That is dangerous and my expectation would be that a major liveaboard operator would have plans in place to prevent this from even happening to begin with.
 

Curious_George

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we missed 50% of the planned dives and were exposed to bad breathing gas (some multiple times). I am wondering what people would have expected to occur in this instance
Appreciate you sharing. Maybe this will encourage a few more people to start testing their tanks for CO, particularly in some of the poorer regions of the world.

Completely outrageous behavior on the part of the dive op. Recommend moving this to thumbs down forum and share the name of the operation responsible. This is exactly why people should carry carbon monoxide gauges and test their air before diving.

changing all the filters is probably as deep as they should have gone

Disagree with this. They should have emptied their banks as well (at minimum) and depending on the cause of contamination, possibly even cleaned them and the scuba tanks that were filled.

Thank goodness there wasn’t another incidence of CO poisoning/death out of this.
 

arew+4

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I would expect at least a partial refund. Something like 1/2 of whatever % of dives you missed. Missed 50% of dives, 25% refund. Or maybe voucher for 50% off next booking.

Foul smells or tastes are not always indicative of health threats, (think asparagus), but they should have done more to address the issue, perhaps having filled tanks delivered to the boat from shore or another boat.
 

rick00001967

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the fact that they crew left it up to each diver to dive or not is unforgivable. no one should have been allowed in the water until they could absolutely rule out gas contamination.

the fact that the crew had no way to test for CO is also unforgivable. there should be a monito on the gas supply at all times imho. and if not, at the very least, they should have an analyser avail for testing.

nothing short of a full refund should be given. they are lucky no one was injured or killed. i would not accept anything less unless you had almost zero costs getting to and from the departure / arrival location. (if you live there for example)

i would hold off on disclosing any company names etc until you are satified (or not) with the outcome.
 
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DrWilliam

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It's almost like they were just going to let everyone keep rolling the dice until someone died.

Unfortunately that is kind of what we felt like. There was also massive conflict of interest from a safety standpoint since we were midway into a far flung destination trip and obviously everyone wanted desperately to make the dives if they could. Was an interesting "experiment" in social and safety issues. You had people asking other people "what are you going to do? Are you going to make this next dive? What if the air still smells bad?"
At one point there was a thought of, "well if these people surface and have no symptoms then that means we're good to go??"
 

Esprise Me

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Recommend moving this to thumbs down forum and share the name of the operation responsible.
I think this thread is in the right place. Thumbs Down is a place to vent, without necessarily expecting a resolution. The OP is seeking feedback, and it's sparked a good discussion of how to handle this scenario.
 
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