VIDEO: Diver calls for help after sharing harrowing capsize footage in Red Sea

Alexander Derhaag, a diver from Belgium, has shared footage of the terrifying moment of his “biggest nightmare”, when the liveaboard boat he was on capsized and almost sank completely in the Gulf of Suez.

Along with his diving ‘family’, Derhaag was in Egypt exploring the depths of the Red Sea.

However, on 24 April, disaster struck as the Carlton Queen yacht, a 42-metre vessel, sank after rolling on to its side off the coast of Hurghada.

Christian Hanson, who was among the divers, told The Mirror that the boat ‘tipped to about 40 degrees’ while he remained trapped inside with two other divers as the windows began to crack and water began to seep in.

“We were discussing the dive, then all of a sudden there’s a massive sway in the boat and the tables move towards us and we have to lift our legs up to avoid it crashing into us,” says Hanson.

“Then the boat sways a long way the other way … very significantly the other way … it kind of jolts and shudders and we were thrown off the chairs backwards onto the windows.

“The boat’s tipped to about 40 degrees, you can see the bubbles in the water whizzing past the windows that we’re now stood on, the pressure of the water was jetting water through the cracks around the window too.”

Hanson and the two other divers were able to escape after the furniture was displaced, allowing him to climb up and reach the door.

“All the time we must’ve been thinking if this boat turns over, we’ll be dead … the windows could’ve shattered, there were so many ways that could’ve trapped us in there.”

“Only because we had very experienced divers among us and worked together selflessly, we were able to save our lives as well as the crew that, in some cases, was not even able to swim nor to manage this life-threatening situation,” says Derhaag. “During the event we had to deal with a lack of safety equipment on board, live rafts with malfunction, flares that did not ignite an untrained crew and a captain that was amongst the first to leave the boat solely focused to save his own life.”

Another passenger, David Taylor, told The Telegraph: “I knew something was wrong when I could see fish swimming outside my cabin room’s window.

“We were shouting for help and heard crashing above us and had this deep feeling of dread that something terrible was happening.”

Taylor says he and his son could not escape by the stairwell, and that nobody had come to help them.

But, as the ship sank, they met Fernando Suarez Meilla, an experienced diver who moved with them from room to room checking for anybody else trapped in the boat. Meilla helped Taylor and his son out of the hold on to the top deck after finding the handle on an emergency hatch was broken. Unable to hoist himself out, the diver told the others to go on as he looked for another way out. He eventually found a way out through an open hatch at the bottom of the boat after finding all other routes impossible to get through.

“Six divers were trapped inside the sinking boat for almost 30 minutes, others fell off the boat during the incident and many were shocked and unable to think clearly. Nevertheless, the crew (as well as we) are all alive and did not suffer live threatening injuries,” says Derhaag.

“Fortunately, another dive-safari boat gave us help. They launched their zodiac into the water in pretty rough seas to take us from the life raft to their boat in small groups. We are forever in debt and grateful to the people of the VIP Shrouq.

“Some injured got first aid care and we were provided with towels, drinks and food. Next, we sailed to calm waters to wait for the lift from the Egyptian Navy.”

The liveaboard, promoted by operator Carlton Fleet Red Sea, is marketed as having been ‘built in 2022’, says Divernet. In fact it seems this was not a new vessel but an enlarged version of the Carlton Queen that had been operating in the Red Sea for some 20 years. Since its renovations it had been out only once before the ill-fated trip.

It was built to accommodate 28 guests, with six double cabins above and eight below decks. The previous incarnation of the liveaboard had been advertised as 6m shorter, with capacity for 22 guests in 11 cabins. Twenty-six guests had booked for the trip, joining a crew of nine and three dive-guides.

Boat listing ‘a couple of degrees’

Boarding in Hurghada on Saturday, 22 April, Hanson told Divernet he immediately spotted that the boat was listing “a couple of degrees” to starboard. He also noted that the saloon doors leading from the dive-deck opened outwards. In a briefing, the starboard tilt came up, and was explained as being connected with taking on water in the tanks and the boat needing time to settle.

On moving off the next day, however, Hanson estimated that the list had become more pronounced, 5-7°. The Captain seemingly cited the water tanks and said that, as a new boat, it needed to soak up water to sit straight. Three dives were carried out, but the list remained. When Hanson got up at about 4am on Monday he thought the list had reached 20-30°. This time the captain put it down to unbalanced use of the bathrooms. The tilt then over-corrected to 5° to port.

“I remember saying to the dive-guide that I hope the captain takes it nice and steady across the strait, as I believe the boat might have some stability issue with its ballast,” Hanson told Divernet.

On encountering the swell in the Strait of Gubal, he says he saw chairs suddenly shift to starboard before the boat stabilised “pretty quickly”.

Then “the boat swayed to port significantly, then swayed a long way starboard.

“The boat heaved violently to port and that was it – it tipped all the way to starboard and we were catapulted off the chairs and onto the windows,” says Hanson. “We were now standing on the windows, looking up at an almost-vertical climb to the closed saloon doors.

“My immediate thought was that that was the thing that was going to kill us. I remember shouting that we had to wait. I could see that the sofa immediately above our heads was still moving and pulling away from the wall.”

Life rafts and RIBS

Carlton Queen carried two 20-person life-rafts and two RIBs. One of the rafts was launched, the other reportedly deployed automatically and swept away.

Witnesses say one of the RIBs crushed the other when the vessel capsized.

Once on a raft, Hanson told Divernet that “The captain told us not to use the flares, but we had a cargo container ship barrelling down on us.” In any case, the parachute day flares failed to work, he says, but they did succeed in firing handheld flares. The cargo vessel signalled a change of course and stopped.

“We had over 30 people in the life-raft at one point, and it wasn’t stable. It’s fortunate that the VIP Shrouq’s two RIBs arrived to evacuate us.

“All in all, it’s been a lesson,” says Hanson. “I was not expecting this at all. You think about fire more than drowning.

“I now look at boat safety in a whole different light. I’m literally going to take a tape-measure on my next [liveaboard] trip and work out whether it’s escapable. If that boat had capsized anywhere else, at night, over the Thistlegorm, we’d all be dead.

“I had suite one, across the width of the boat, and if I’d been in that cabin the water pressure wouldn’t have let me open the door. The way the boat tipped, it would have filled from the door, and the other side only has a porthole. So I’d have had plenty of time to think about drowning before I actually did.”

Derhaag says that after being offered basic help, the company “made a lot of noise about wanting to help, but in the end it was all of us who did all the work to get the necessary paperwork to be able to travel back home. Our passports, given to the captain at the beginning of the voyage to evacuate with him in an emergency, were of course nowhere to be found.”

Nightmare for all guests

Derhaag says the days following the incident were a nightmare.

“In the days that followed we were left alone with the predicament we were in. By the representative of the company that organized the trip we were threatened, lied to and pressured to make false statements to the authorities – which we of course did not do. Instead of sending doctors they send lawyers, instead of providing help, they tried to spread fear among us and instead of taking responsibility for what had happened, they did not even show up to a meeting in which they initially told us to provide a compensation offer.

“Almost all of us lost everything they have brought to the trip but a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. As we are a very diverse group, some of us are able to deal with the financial loss, however others are in a really desperate situation and have even lost the equipment needed to go back to work. The company that organised the trip is not willing to pay a single cent.”

Derhaag is asking for donations to help raise funds to help afford medical treatments not covered by insurances, to replace the most urgently needed things, and to get legal support to ensure that no one else has to experience what he says could have been easily prevented.

Carlton Fleet speaks out about ‘threats’

In a statement to Divernet, Carlton Fleet says: ‘While we are deeply saddened about the accident, we are relieved by the safe return of all guests and crew-members to shore, the Egyptian authorities are currently investigating the incident, and our staff-members and crew are co-operating with them to identify the reasons for the boat’s capsizing.

‘The Carlton Fleet team emphasises that Carlton Queen, which was recently renovated, had undergone all required maintenance works, passed all inspections, and was fit for operations as confirmed by technical reports.

‘Secondly, the Carlton Fleet team finds itself compelled to address, albeit briefly, some of the ill-founded reports made with respect to the crew-members’ handling of the guests, both at the time of the accident and until their return to their home countries.

‘The safe return of all those on board bears testament to the crew-members’ effective management of the situation, which spared the lives of all passengers.

‘Fortunately, and notwithstanding any sensationalist allegations made by some disgruntled guests, only three divers sustained minor injuries that were treated in hospital at the company’s expense.

Carlton Queen’s crew-members followed the safety protocols applicable to the circumstances, leading to the swift evacuation of the boat. The captain fired six flares in the air immediately upon the occurrence of the accident, which alerted a cargo ship to the need for help, prompting it to change its course and secure the area.

‘It is confirmed that the life-rafts were released by the captain and another crew-member, who ensured that the rafts remained close to the boat, notwithstanding strong wind and current, until all passengers could board them with the crew’s assistance.’

The statement then details the actions of the Carlton Fleet in aiding guests back at shore. It concludes:

‘Besides the company’s coverage of all medical, accommodation and all other expenses relating to the guests (including pocket-money, new travel-document fees and flight changes), the team offered to pay the guests additional amounts for inconvenience before the conclusion of the investigation.

‘Unfortunately, the company’s offer fell on deaf ears, and certain guests engaged in negotiation tactics and resorted to threats to strong-arm the Carlton Fleet into paying them larger amounts, notwithstanding their signature of releases and liability waivers, and the charterer’s clear instructions that they procure insurance for loss or damage to equipment and belongings prior to boarding the boat.

‘The threats regrettably persisted following their safe return to their home countries.

At last, we are co-operating with the Egyptian authorities to determine the cause of the accident and urge all those concerned to wait for the result of the investigation so that we may determine the next steps.’

Read Hanson’s harrowing full account of the incident, and Carlton Fleet’s full statement on Divernet.

All images courtesy of YouTube video from Alexander Derhaag.

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