Families arrive on Bali as search for Japanese divers resumes
Volunteers prepare to search for seven missing Japanese tourists at a beach in Sanur on Bali island on February 16, 2014 - by Sonny Tumbelaka
Around 100 searchers have been combing the seas since the five tourists and two instructors -- all women -- went missing on Friday during their third dive of the day from the island of Nusa Lembongan, just east of Bali.
Some relatives of the missing women arrived in Bali on Sunday, Japanese consular officials said, while a distressed husband of one of the divers was seen on Sanur beach, but did not want to speak to reporters.
"I'm praying for her safety," the mother of missing instructor Shoko Takahashi told reporters in Japan on Sunday before leaving for Bali, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun daily.
"She is an active person with a dependable personality. She never does foolhardy things."
Rescuers beginning the fourth day of their search have found no sign at all of the seven women, who were experienced scuba divers who had logged more than 50 dives each.
Bad weather conditions on Monday morning prevented the team's helicopter from joining the operation, Bali search and rescue chief Didi Hamzar told AFP.
The dive boat's skipper said he was following the divers for some 20 minutes before a sudden downpour made the water cloudy, according to Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper.
He moved his 10-metre-long boat to a point some hundreds of metres away where the divers were expected to resurface at an agreed time, the report said.
When they failed to resurface, the skipper said he searched for them for an hour before reporting the incident.
But Hamzar told reporters on Sunday that he had received information that the skipper had run out of fuel at some point, and had to refill before heading to the agreed meeting spot.
Hamzar said that the dive trip operator, Yellow Scuba, had been uncontactable for some time. Calls from AFP to the firm have also gone unanswered.
However Yasue Katsunobu, Japan's deputy consul general in Bali, said Japanese officials had been in touch with Yellow Scuba and that the operator had sent its own boats and staff out to assist in the search.
John Chapman, a Briton who runs the World Diving Lembongan operator on the island where the women went missing, said that the heavy rain and choppy waves could have been a factor in their disappearance.
He said a sudden downpour of heavy rain would have made some safety procedures, such as convening at a brightly marked buoy, difficult because of poor visibility.
"Often operators coming from Bali, they don't necessarily have the knowledge of the currents and conditions. Some areas are for experienced divers, and anyone coming here should make sure they use a good operator," he said.
To assist rescue officials, Chapman on Sunday conducted a simulation dive to mimic the group's, saying the current was "quite gentle" but became much rougher when he surfaced.
Hamzar said the divers left from Blue Point on Nusa Lembongan, an area recommended only for experienced divers because of its strong currents, which often strike suddenly.
Japan's Kyodo news agency said the missing women were named by police and rescue authorities as: Ritsuko Miyata, 59, Emi Yamamoto, 33, Nahomi Tomita, 28, Aya Morizono, 27, Atsumi Yoshinobe, 29, Shoko Takahashi, 29, and Saori Furukawa, 27.
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