Calif. dive boat operator surrenders credential in missing customer case

A California dive boat operator voluntarily surrendered her merchant mariner credential, after a Coast Guard investigation into how a diver was left behind when the boat, full of other dive customers, moved on to another location off Santa Catalina Island Dec. 29, 2015.

Diver Laurel Silver-Valker, 45, was on the 48’x16’ Sundiver Express and went into the water around 9:35 a.m. that day to hunt for lobsters below Ship Rock, a popular dive site.

The boat left without Silver-Valker on board. When the mother of two and longtime patron of the dive boat was discovered missing, the group went back, starting a massive search operation that was unsuccessful. Silver-Valker was never found and is presumed dead.

Captain Kyaa Heller of Sundiver International, Long Beach, Calif., gave up her mariner’s credential June 6 in conclusion of a Coast Guard administrative action, according to officials at Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. The Coast Guard sought revocation of Heller’s credential for 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.

“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, the senior investigating officer for 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.”

After the Sundiver Express case, Coast Guard officials in southern California put out a marine safety bulletin, “reminding all small passenger vessel operators of the importance of passenger accountability.”

About the author

Kirk Moore

Associate Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been a field editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for almost 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.

2 Comments

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    Capt Peter lindquist on

    In the Great Lakes we have not heard of this case. The coast guard needs to get the message out as in the article. We in the dive vessel industry need to know about these type of issues

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