Tourist left behind on Great Barrier Reef snorkelling trip
A CAIRNS reef operator has sacked an employee responsible for a bungled headcount that resulted in a tourist being left behind on a snorkelling trip.
US tourist Ian Cole, 28, told The Cairns Post he was panic-stricken when he pulled his head from the water at Michaelmas Cay on Saturday afternoon and saw no sign of the vessel Passions of Paradise anywhere.
Mr Cole estimated the boat left at least 20 minutes before he swam to another vessel owned by the same company, whose employees radioed for Passions of Paradise to come back.
Association of Marine Park Tourism Operators executive officer Col McKenzie yesterday confirmed the incident, and said it had been reported to Marine Safety Queensland and Workplace Health and Safety.
Mr Cole said he was making his way back to the boat when the incident unfolded.
"I lifted my head up and I saw the boat had gone – it had left me," he said.
"The adrenalin hit in and I had a moment of panic, which was the worst thing I could have done at that point.
"I was able to calm myself just a little bit because there was another boat still out there and I made my way to that vessel.
"Lucky it was there because otherwise I may have drowned, I did not handle the situation well and I was tired."
Mr McKenzie said the tourist was "never at any stage at risk", with a beach and other vessels close by.
But he admitted the staff member who conducted the headcount on Passions of Paradise broke the rules in not obtaining Mr Cole’s signature to confirm he was on the boat before it embarked on the return journey.
"The staff member has already been sacked," Mr
"They have had a staff member that has just simply broken the rules, and that is what led to it."
Headcount regulations were tightened after the 1998 disappearance of American dive couple Tom and Eileen Lonergan off Port Douglas.
Mr McKenzie said Passions of Paradise was an award-winning tourism operator with an excellent safety record. He said there were a number of systems in place within the industry to ensure passengers were not left behind.
"If a (staff member) decides to be lazy and not do the right thing, then yes, this can happen," he said.
Mr Cole’s trip was refunded and he was also offered a $200 restaurant voucher.
But the American, who has been in Australia on a working holiday for about nine months, said he wanted written assurances that procedures would be put in place to ensure nothing similar ever happened again.
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All alone: Tourist Ian Cole wants tighter safety procedures on Reef tours after being overlooked in a headcount and left behind at Michaelmas Cay.