During parliament in October 2009 the Gibraltar Government announced its plans to improve local diving regulations - without giving a time frame. The same week Dr Eric Shaw, founder of the Helping Hand Trust, was asked to speak on the subject on local television programme 'Nightwatch'.
Eric told the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation (GBC), that he is very pleased about this development, as the Helping Hand Trust and the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society (GOHNS) have been pushing the issue for well over a decade and had written a respective suggestion on diving licenses in 1996.
"We need a level playing field and safe diving conditions in Gibraltar," said Eric.
Asked by TV presenter Ros Astengo, what he considers to be the flaws in the current regulations, Eric explained that local divers have to go through extensive and expensive training in order to qualify for a license, to dive, or take divers out into the water - even more so when taking divers out on a boat. In contrast to that, Spanish divers and dive operators can simply cross the border with their equipment and dive on the very same sites in Gibraltar without any checks by the authorities. As a consequence it is impossible to tell if those foreign divers have the right kind of training, and whether their insurance covers them in Gibraltar.
The recent death of a German diver who was taken to a diving site in Gibraltar by a Spanish company made it painfully clear that the diving regulations are insufficient, said Eric. Though this was by far the most tragic incident, Eric highlighted that there are many recollections of foreign divers, who were "carried away with currents" and needed to be rescued by the police, fishermen or local divers.
Foreign dive operators need to be in touch with local divers in order to ensure that they do not take risks, said Eric, adding that in other European countries foreign divers have to be guided by local divers who are aware of the dangers of the specific waters and need to obtain and show their permits. Eric also said, that he personally does not hold anything against any Spanish dive operator but expects them to go through the same legal procedures as local divers.
Asked whether he expected to be part of the process of making new regulations, he replied, that the Helping Hand Trust and GONHS expect to be consulted due to the length of time they have been emphasising the importance of those regulations. He also stressed, that he hopes local diving operators will be included in the discussions.