Victim Laurel Silver-Valker. File photo.
A merchant mariner operating a dive boat out of Long Beach surrendered her credentials after a U.S. Coast Guard investigation into the disappearance and presumed death of a diver near Catalina Island last year, authorities said Wednesday.
Orange County resident Laurel L. Silver-Valkera went missing Dec. 29 during a morning dive near Ship Rock in the Isthmus Harbor with other divers from the Long Beach-based Sundiver Express dive boat company. The 43-foot commercial passenger vessel is operated under the direction and control of Kyaa Heller.
Coast Guard officials said Silver-Valkera was unaccounted for after entering the water for a recreational dive.
“A search and rescue effort ensued when the passenger [...] was later discovered missing from the vessel at the next dive site,” the Coast Guard stated in a release. “Silver-Valker was never located and is presumed deceased.”
After Coast Guard Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach investigators ended their administrative enforcement action they filed an administrative complaint seeking to revoke Kya Heller’s merchant mariner credential.
Six alleged offenses were filed, including one count of negligence for failing to maintain proper passenger accountability and five counts of misconduct related to the operation of a commercial vessel, according to the release.
Instead of appearing at a suspension and revocation hearing before a federal administrative law judge, Heller elected to voluntarily surrender her credential to the Coast Guard on June 6, officials stated.
“This is a tragic case, and our hope is that the small passenger vessel community, and in particular, dive boat operators, take some important lessons from this case to prevent such an incident from ever happening again,” stated Lt. Cmdr. Nathan Menefee, senior investigating officer at Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach. “There is no excuse for departing a dive site without confirming all passengers are on board and accounted for. Passenger vessel operators must take the role and responsibility of Master seriously, as the safety of their passengers is in their hands. The responsibility of a Master cannot be delegated.”
The incident led Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach to release a bulletin reminding operators and crew members of the importance of maintaining accurate passenger accountability.
"The Sector Los Angeles-Long Beach OCMI expects that Small Passenger Vessels serving as diving platforms for diving operations take all reasonable and prudent actions to ensure that every passenger on board is accounted for before the vessel departs each dive area," the bulletin stated.