Diving in Sri Lanka
PADI Asia Pacific conducted the very first Instructor Exam in Sri Lanka from 15-16 February, 2013.
Platinum PADI Course Director, Mark Soworka from Koh Tao Thailand, provided the following story leading up to this significant event…
Sri Lanka is truly an amazing country. A generous and hospitable nation filled with wonderful stories, a rich and diverse culture and history, and fascinating dive destinations. I had the great fortune in February 2013 to conduct the first PADI Instructor Development Course in Sri Lanka. It was a wonderful experience. The IDC was conducted at PADI 5 Star Instructor Development Centre Poseidon Diving Station, Hikkuduwa with all Sri Lankan candidates.
Right from the beginning the stories and experiences started flowing. The dive centre was started in 1973 by Swedish adventurer Sven and Lesley Sembakuttige, father of the present owner Chami Sembakuttige. Fortunately Sven was actually visiting with his family so I had the opportunity to listen spellbound to his stories of diving Sri Lanka in the seventies. At 82 he only gave up diving last year and has a lifetime full of adventures from diving in the first-ever made dry suit, discovering wrecks and treasures around Sri Lanka, even showing me the tiny compressor that they smuggled into Sri Lanka to fill those first tanks - through to the importance Chamis’ dad played in the local community. No greater tribute to that exists than the comparatively low loss of life on Hikkuduwa in the 2004 Tsunami. Chamis’ family have strongly advocated protecting Hikkuduwa’s reef for decades.
During the IDC we had Oliver Ridley and Green turtles nesting and hatching right in front of the dive centre. Swim twenty meters out to where we were doing the confined presentations and you have hundreds of trevally schooling, incredibly enormous turtles swimming around to check on us and a school of bump head parrotfish. It’s a great testament to the local community protecting their reef. Reefs either side of Hikkuduwa have been decimated by generations of limestone mining. During the tsunami, those areas that had lost the natural barrier protection of the reef were completely devastated with massive loss of life. Few died where the reef remained relatively intact - a testament to the forethought of Lesley Sembakuttige.
Some of the guys leading dives there, like Lal and Sunil, have been leading dives in the local area since the 70s and 80s - such an immense wealth of local knowledge and experience. Lal actually completed the IDC and has been a registered PADI Divemaster since 1993. When I checked his card at the commencement of the IDC I remarked on how worn and water logged the card looked. He replied how he actually lost his wallet in the tsunami, only to rediscover it three years later on the inner side of the reef, PADI Divemaster card still intact.
On the next PADI IDC I really hope I can organise a trip with these guys out to the Great Bassos 1701 silver wreck found by Arthur C. Clarke in 1961. They still know where the treasure lies. But then again, I would also like to go diving in March/April off Trincomalee after seeing the video from one of the other IDC candidates, Menaka, of diving with a pod of sperm whales. Guess I will have to do several more trips to Sri Lanka.
We also conducted the first Enriched Air Nitrox Instructor course on Sri Lanka. This was at the suggestion of Lakshmann who was doing his PADI Staff Instructor course. He actually started diving with Mike Wallis who was filming underwater in Sri Lanka back in the ‘60s and ‘70s and was involved with Arthur C. Clarke in finding the treasure on Great Bassos.
Teaching the next generation of Sri Lankan divemasters and PADI Instructors is well underway. Poseidon Diving were also hosting Plongeurs du Monde at the same time as the IDC. Plongeurs du Monde is a group of committed dive instructors that devote their time and money - with support from PADI - in training local children in under developed regions to scuba dive. Louis Rebboh, the President of Plongeurs du Monde, has established programmes in Philippines, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka and is also looking at India. Since the 2004 tsunami they have trained over 200 kids in Sri Lanka. This year saw their first batch of successful PADI Rescue Diver candidates and next year will be the beginning of PADI Divemaster training. They are doing a wonderful job at helping foster an appreciation and respect in local communities for scuba diving and the underwater environment, plus helping mould our next generation of PADI dive professionals.
Such a wealth of experience on this IDC, but they were all still very nervous when it came to completing the PADI Instructor examination. They did not know what to expect from PADI. At the beginning of the IDC they had recounted how on the first ever PADI Member Forum conducted by Johnny Chew after the tsunami they had all turned up nervous and worried, expecting PADI to administer exams and check their knowledge. Luckily, PADI Instructor Examiner Rob Scammell put their fears to rest and made the IE as relaxing as possible, creating an environment conducive for these guys to show how knowledgeable as divers they are and how good as instructors they will be.
With drummers on the beach, drinks and curry, we celebrated 100% success for the first ever IDC on Sri Lanka. Congratulations Menaka, Praveen, Feroz and Lal. Sri Lanka will continue to grow as a dive destination with continued support from you guys and I look forward to IDCs on Sri Lanka in the future. Thanks also for the support and help during the IDC from Chami, Lakshmann, Devsiri and Rob.
It was really a week of firsts. After the Instructor Exam, Rob Scammell conducted the Emergency First Response Instructor Trainer course with Rob Partridge for Temple Adventures in Pondicherry, making him the first EFRIT in India.
Afterwards I had the opportunity to travel around Sri Lanka for a few days and found a wonderful country rich in history and culture. I visited some of the best ruins and examples of Buddhist art that I have seen anywhere and glimpsed great national parks with a wonderful diversity of wildlife.
I really look forward to returning to Sri Lanka. It is sure to become a ‘must see’ travel destination in the near future and is simply a fantastic destination for an Instructor Development Course.
For details of the next Instructor Development Course in Sri Lanka, please contact Mark Soworka
** PHOTO: The four candidates with their dive mentors during the Instructor Development Course at Hikkuduwa, in Sri Lanka. Left to Right: Devsiri Peiris (IDC Staff), Chami Sembakuttige (IDC Staff and owner), Lal Sembakutti, Rob Partridge (IDC Staff), Lakshman Muthukuda (IDC Staff), Mohamed Feroz, Menaka Goonwardena, Praveen Wijesuriya and PADI Course Director, Mark Soworka.
shores of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), a distance of about 5 miles. They survived an experience which Prime Minister Winston Churchill later called the "most dangerous moment" in the World War II.
Richard William Henry Groom who lives in Hartlepool, UK. His daughter Lesley Harker provided this personal account:
Dad tells us that he was below deck when the first bomb hit, and the same story which has been well documented that she received 40 direct hits.
Dad says he was knocked unconscious by one of the blasts, he was below deck. Dad was a member of the fleet air arm. He said when he came round the ship was listing badly and all the lifts to get on top deck were damaged and not working. He said that he had to climb up a lift shaft in order to get to the top. When he did eventually get to the top the ship was being bombarded badly and they were being ordered to abandon ship. There was a large gun on one side of the ship and someone had tied a rope in order for men to lower themselves into the water. Dad seems to think he might have been one of the last to leave the ship and he can remember doing a Tarzan like leap to the rope and lowered himself into the sea. They were told to make sure to keep within an oil slick as the sharks would not come near to the oil and therefore they would have a better chance of survival. Dad said he was in the water for many hours hanging on to a plank of wood before the hospital ship the Vita (I think it was called) picked him up. He was taken to South Africa I think - to recuperate. His family were sent a telegram saying he was reported missing believed killed in action. About 5 days later they received another telegram to say that he had been found safe.
The second telegram to the family reads:
16th April 1942. Priority Mrs C Groom, 13 Heolddu Crescent, Bargoed, Glamorgan.
Pleased to inform you that your son Richard Henry William Groom – Air Fitter (A) has been reported survivor from HMS Hermes. C.O. R.N. Lee on Solent.
My father was 89 on the 4th February and is not in the best of health.
Some 60 years on from this tragedy, the HMS Hermes was discovered. After numerous expeditions, in 2002 a local diver from the west coast of Sri Lanka, Felician Fernando first sighted the HMS Hermes resting at 60m in the deep waters off the Indian Ocean at Batticaloa
Feli, a PADI IDC Staff Instructor, formed Sri Lanka Diving Tours in 2009 and began diving the Hermes using TRIMIX. To date he has guided and dived the wreck about 315 times.
You can now visit the wreckage with Sri Lanka Diving Tours, a PADI Dive Centre who offer everything you need from recreational to advanced technical and Trimix diving. Sri Lanka diving tours is now fully equipped to handle technical diver groups up to the maximum of 10 pax. They are located on the eastern coast of Sri Lanka at Negombo, about 30 kms north of Colombo.
An adventure technical dive to this historic wreckage has become a major tourist attraction, featured among the top100 wrecks in the world by the UK Sports Diver Magazine - hundreds of dive enthusiasts from all over the world visit Sri Lanka every month just to dive this wreck.
Just beyond the recreational limits, it is certainly necessary to possess technical diver training. The currents are usually strong, visibility great - with over 30 - 40m at times. It is graced with some of the richest marine life in this part of the world.
A SALUTE TO LOST SAILORS
On the 9th of April 2012, Feli revisited the wreck of HMS Hermes with his son Sashaan to pay a last tribute to the sunken ship and her valiant sailors. Before they departed by boat to the site, they observed a minute of silence to pay tribute to the war marines.
They took flowers to place on the wreck - the descent began through the Shot line (anchor line) at the exact time when the Hermes was attacked and sunk by the Japanese at 10:35hrs. They placed the flowers near the shells of the canon and went on to observe other sections - the crows nest, range finder, line cutter and three other canons.
HMS Hermes - Rest in Peace
Vishara Fernando hands flowers to Sashaan Fernando before the commemorative dive to HMS Hermes on 9th April, 2012. (At rear, Felician Fernando.);