Diving superintendent who forged qualifications jailed over death of commercial diver

·Senior Reporter
·5-min read
The body of 33-year-old Jake Seet Choon Heng was found on in the waters off Sentosa on 7 May 2018. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)
The body of 33-year-old Jake Seet Choon Heng was found on in the waters off Sentosa on 7 May 2018. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — A diving superintendent with a ship cleaning company was on Wednesday (19 May) jailed for two years for forging his qualifications and abetting a subordinate in causing a diver's death by a rash act.

Mohd Zalkarnain Mohd Salleh, 56, pleaded guilty at the State Courts to using forged diving supervisor accreditation, and abetting to cause the death of Seet Choon Heng, 33, on 5 May 2018 by a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Andre Chong, who sought at least 27 months' jail, said, "Having secured his job as a diving superintendent by submitting forged qualifications, he rashly endorsed a diving plan which flouted numerous safety regulations, and thereafter rashly failed to intervene when the deceased was left unmonitored. In so doing, he abrogated his responsibility and placed the deceased in what amounted to death trap, leading to his tragic demise."

Seet had repeatedly called for help over the intercom for one minute, but there was no response as his supervisors had lowered the volume level and were not monitoring his video feed. He then removed his helmet and struggled to swim to the surface but was unable to do so as his helmet was still connected via a hose to the bailout tank that he was carrying on his back.

Seet's body was found two days later in the sea off Sentosa near the spot where he went missing.

About the case

In late 2017, Zalkarnain applied to Mola Subsea Services to be a diving superintendent. He had worked previously with various companies as a diving supervisor, diving manager and diving superintendent since 2011.

Zalkarnain was qualified as a diver under the Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme and a diving supervisor under the Association of Diving Contractors International. However, the latter was not a recognised qualification by Singapore's Ministry of Manpower.

As part of his job application, Zalkarnain submitted a forged diving supervisor card and a dive supervisor diploma certificate purportedly by the Australian Diver Accreditation Scheme. He was hired in January 2018 with a monthly salary of $6,000.

On 4 and 5 May 2018, Zalkarnain, dive supervisor Raden Roslan Mohd, and four divers were involved in two back-to-back diving operations from the diving boat Mola Saif, which ended at about 7am on 5 May.

Seet joined the team 40 minutes later on board the boat at Marina South Pier and the team headed to clean the hull of a cargo vessel “Jork” which was moored at the Western Working Anchorage.

"As Raden and the crew were physically tired from the previous two diving operations, Raden decided to conduct a diving operation using two divers in the water simultaneously in order to speed up the operation," DPP Chong said.

Zalkarnain agreed, despite knowing the increased complexity of the operation and that Raden had never managed a simultaneous dive previously. The monitoring setup on board the Mola Saif was also not configured for such an operation.

At about 12.30pm, Raden asked Seet to enter the water to clean the ship's stern. About half an hour later, Raden asked another diver to clean the ship's propeller. 

Shortly after, Raden found that he was unable to hear the other diver's voice clearly so he turned down the volume of Seet's radio. Raden also switched the other diver's CCTV screen to the master screen and relegated Seet's CCTV feed to the smaller screen.

From about 1.41pm to 1.45pm, Raden turned his back to the diving communication system while talking to Zalkarnain, leaving the audio and video feeds of the two divers unmonitored.

"The accused was subjectively advertent that Raden’s failure to monitor the divers’ feeds placed both divers at risk of death or grievous hurt, notwithstanding that both divers had a continuous air supply, as there remained the risk that the divers could be pulled away by a current, or that their umbilical cords could be fouled and severed," said DPP Chong.

Reconstruction from Seet's video feed revealed that at about 1.39pm, Seet realised that his umbilical cord was entangled with the seabed, preventing him from ascending. He repeatedly called for help over the intercom but did not get a reply.

At about 1.42pm, he removed his helmet and tried to swim to the surface but remained at the same dive depth as his helmet was still connected via a hose to the bailout tank on his back.

"After struggling for approximately 45 seconds, the deceased's movements stopped and his helmet sank to the seabed. The deceased’s video feed turned black upon contact with the sea floor," said DPP Chong.

"At approximately 1.45pm, the accused finally noticed that the deceased’s video feed... had gone black. According to the video footage, this was approximately five minutes and 58 seconds after the deceased first showed signs of distress. The accused notified Raden, and Raden attempted to contact the deceased... However, there was no reply," added the prosecutor.

A diver found Seet's umbilical and helmet trapped among corals on the seabed at about 33m dive depth.

Seet's body was found at about 6.30pm on 7 May in the sea off Sentosa.

For his forgery charge, Zalkarnain could have been jailed for up to 10 years and fined.

The maximum penalty for causing death by a rash act not amounting to culpable homicide is five years' jail and a fine.

Raden was jailed for one year in June last year over his role in causing Seet's death.

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