Did the earth move for you? – The effect of Mt Agung Volcano on the diving industry

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Sequence of events on the Mt Agung Volcano activity in Bali, Indonesia  and it’s impact on the local dive industry.

Well to date, 10th February, the tremors of Mt Agung here in Bali have ceased and there have been no massive eruptions, contrary to what the press have been saying.

So how does it feel to be running one of the best equipped technical and recreational dive set up’s in Bali and Indonesia in the shadow of Mt Agung?

Here is the story of what happened during the nightmare that was and our thoughts for the future.

It all started quite slowly but escalated relatively quickly as initially we were on a level two status,  basically meaning that Mt Agung is showing some unusual activity and after a few days this went up to level 3 meaning that there is a problem but do not panic !!

Well we did not panic but made some precautions if she did act up even more.

At this time there were a few tremors and we even had a small earthquake and there was some steam being emitted from the volcano but nothing like what the media was stating at all. We informed the 28 guests that we had made provisional accommodation booking in a safe area in Sanur, part of the capital of Bali,and gave some advice as to be prepared in case we did have to evacuate, ie have a GO bag ready with passport, tickets etc ready in case.

We had just completed the construction and outfitting of the best technical set up area and workshops in Bali with a Gym and Yoga centre attached and we had taken delivery of the last fitness machine for the new gym at 4pm !

Villa Alba

To preempt the situation we decided to pack what technical dive gear that was not in use so we could and get it to a safe location before the situation got any worse. So the two cars, two pick ups, 16 seat bus and my Toyota Hi Lux were packed up ready to go when we received the evacuation notice at 2100 hours!!

We obviously had to unpack these vehicles and we then used all vehicles, with the exception of the two pick ups to get the guests out of the area as per plan A. (The two pick ups were for any of our staff that wanted to evacuate their families cows , pigs etc ). So in convoy we headed out only to find that the roads were blocked with others with the same intention !!

So plan B was quickly made up and we headed to Amed, a small village that was outwith the exclusion zone and finally, by just after midnight we managed to get all 32 of us and our 4 dogs !! bedded down for the night. Well in fact being Scottish with the thought that if I had no dive gear there was no way that I could rise from the ashes. If our resort was demolished I said that I would head back and see what I could save. After a small discussion, between them, our drivers decided to go back with me and save what we could, which we did.

So early the next morning we unloaded this saved gear to a safe location. Picked up the guests and as the road was now clear took then to the pre booked accommodation in Sanur. Why not stay in Amed? Well even though Amed was outside the danger zone there were still two problems with it. One being any volcanic ash that was being thrown out would be a health risk and the other being that the roads in and out of Amed went through the red, danger zone so once there you would be trapped.

So we were very busy over the next month or so arranging alternative accommodation for our arriving guests and organising a temporary set up for our recreational dive gear as we were still intent on being  operational.

These days and weeks were hard work as again and again we went back to collect even more gear, compressors, boosters, CCR units, tools etc and there were a few times whilst there that the earth moved with tremors and eartquakes like it has never done before, well for me anyway !!

We were quite fortunate overall in comparison to some of the local residents and as a 32 room resort we had various food etc in our freezers that would possibly be wasted so we took a lot of it to the government evacuation centres and donated it to them along with a few crates of beer and soft drinks.

So here we are 4 months after the initial evacuation and we are back to a level 2 scenario, ( the exclusion zone is now down to 4km and we are apoprox 12 km away), with all our staff back at work. During the initial phase we kept the 58 staff on the books for two months and obviously with no income we could not keep that going forever so we ended up with 50% of the workforce working 15 days and the rest another 15 days so at least the staff were getting some income from us.

Bookings are starting to pick up again and hopefully Agung remains quiet for the forseeable future but there has been some good coming out of it all.

We found out who our friends are as they assisted in whatever way they could with accommodation for us, alternative set ups, storage facilities etc. We are very proud of our staff as they went above and beyond during this time and as I always say that our success is not down to us have the best dive equipment, facilities etc but down to them and the service and expertise that they have shown and provide to our guests. On the down side there were quite a few companies trying to make a killing on our problems, with one hotel asking for 4 times more than the normal price for us to lease a section of their hotel grounds to allow us to operate from, even though they were empty due to the airport being closed and others, tempting away some of our technical guests stating that they were in a safe zone whilst we were in a danger zone ! Plus we even had one Western company based in the Amed safe zone bringing divers and staff into the danger zone to dive the USAT Liberty without official permission. This action was putting their guests and staff in a very dangerous situation if she did blow whilst they were underwater !! All for a few dollars more !!

Another misfortune that befell us is that our two extremly experienced technical instructors have left due to the uncertainty at the time and have now settled elsewhere so we are in need of at least one technical, including CCR, experienced instructor to join us.

So to the future and lessons learned.

4 months on and we have survived what has been quite a nightmare business wise and even though our occupancy rate is improving we have a long way to go till we are back to normal. We have all our staff back in action and the majority of our gear is back here again. We have utilised the down time to make improvements to the centre  and do our routine servicing , tank inspections etc plus staff training. We have now 38 rooms with the additional 6 being in Sanur and that at present we use as a staging post for our guests coming and leaving as it is only 20 minutes from the airport plus it is a bolt hole for us and the dogs if Mt Agung causes more problems.

A few of our peers have not been so lucky and are still closed or looking for buyer’s to take over their business but until the situation improves who would make the bold decision to buy? We ourselves have lost a lot financially not only with the drop in business but in the possible resale value of the property.

There are a few ideas taking shape for us to be less dependant on Bali alone with two new resort areas being looked at plus we are starting organising CCR livaboard trips.

We were in the final planning for a technical dive presentation week where divers can come and try, in water, various equipment with the manufacturers being present, along with technical dive instructors and various dive show presenters with the event being called “TechTonik” with David Strike ( Strikey) being the power and brains behind that and that has been delayed till we can be more sure of what Agung will be doing (if ever one can be with nature). This has been put on the back burner till we decide when would be the best time to have it. This would have been the biggest and best that Bali has seen as we did the last one and this one promised to be even bigger and better.

As to the story heading I must admit that the other way that the earth has moved for me previously was much more enjoyable !!

Learn more at: http://alba-tulamben-dive.com/aboutus/facilities.html

 

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