IN A SMALL OFFICE IN HURGHADAS SUBURBS, youll find the most powerful men in the Egyptian diving industry - the technical inspectors for the Chamber of Diving & Watersports.
Their job To inspect and evaluate dive centres and safari boats, to ensure that they meet the European ISO standard for recreational diving. Can their decisions be trusted I was in Hurghada to find out.
Across the table are Ihab, Manager of the Chamber Of Diving & Watersports, and his inspectors, Amr, Hazem and Hussein. Theyve been told to allow me unprecedented access, but seem unsure how this will work. Perhaps we can simulate an inspection for you suggests Hazem.
No point, I reply, Im here to see how you conduct the inspections, especially those of poorly run centres, the ones that give diving in the Red Sea
a bad name. I have only four days with the team, so I want to see them in action.
As Hazem drives me to the Orca Dive Club in El Gouna, he hands me the most recent inspection report. Orca has already been awarded its ISO certificate, so this visit is to ascertain if it is maintaining the standards. The report outlines some concerns about divers diving beyond their qualification and experience: a PADI Advanced Open Water diver reportedly at 36m on a drift dive and an OWD on the wreck of the Rosalie Moller, 35m to the deck.
The manager isnt present, but this doesnt stop Hazem inspecting the boat-lists. Whats more, he finds them to be in order - no one has been diving beyond his or her qualification.
Next stop is the equipment-room. Everything appears to be of a high standard, but Hazems trained eye spots a regulator dust-cap missing.
He notes its number. Next time Ill ask to see the maintenance records for that one, he says. As we spend time observing day-to-day activity at the centre, Hazem talks me through how an inspection would work. But, of course, Im after the real thing.
Back on the road, I push Hazem to show me a centre thats unlikely to pass the inspection process. He agrees to show me the Blue Dreams Diving Club in Hurghada, which is struggling to implement previous actions. Apparently it has no qualified instructor; poorly kept records; no safety briefings and
no risk assessments.
As we arrive, I can see the worry on the managers face. But Hazem says: Ive made several visits here. Our role isnt just to inspect, its to advise and support, and this centre is trying to improve, so Ill keep coming back until we have to make a decision.
As we drive back to the Chamber office, I sense that Ive been given a PR tour, interesting but not what Im after.
I will have to be blunt with Ihab. Simulations and visits to CDWS-friendly centres wont cut it with DIVER readers!

Day Two
Ihab agrees to my request, and teams me up with Hussein for a real inspection, at the Piano Dive Club in Hurghada.
Husseins list of problems starts before we get to reception, as he sees three cylinders standing upright.
He barks something at one of the centres employees, and within seconds theyre on their sides.
The centres manager sees this. It doesnt bode well and its about to get worse. Hussein asks for the boat-lists, but whats on them isnt up to standard.
I look over Husseins shoulder and see how, instead of putting the type of dive into the column marked Service, a member of staff has written:Very good. Did someone think this was what the inspectors wanted to see
Now the probing really starts. Hussein picks out Sabine from the list, and asks for her registration forms.
What has caught his eye is the check-dive to 21m. The registration form doesnt show her qualification, but does say that she has carried out a total of four dives.
It transpires that Sabine may not have a qualification and is spending the week on Discover Diving trips, some to 21m.
Perhaps the Piano Dive Club will have more luck in the equipment-room Sadly not. Straight away, Hussein sees that the consoles have no depth gauges on them. On my last visit I said you must have them by today, so where are they he asks.
A staff-member opens a cupboard and brings out several boxes of wrist-worn gauges. There are smiles all round from the staff, until Hussein starts taking each one out of its box - and licking it.
He holds one up: None of these has been in the water - theres no salt! The smiles have gone, theyve been rumbled.
There is water in the first stages, dirty filters, broken and worn O-rings and, on one regulator, the tie-wrap to secure the mouthpiece is missing. Hussein shows the centre staff how easily it could come away - hes not happy.
These are just the things I can see, and so far Ive seen enough, says Hussein, as he prepares a long list of action points. The manager tells me that Husseins visit has been helpful, but his face says otherwise.

NEXT STOP IS HURGHADAS Stingray Dive Centre, where Hussein is to observe the start of a PADI Open Water course for a couple of tourists. The faults come thick and fast.
The Egyptian instructor speaks only Arabic and English, but the woman is German and speaks only German, while the man is Italian and speaks English and German.
The only way for the course to be run is in English, with the Italian translating into German. The flaws in this plan are obvious, especially when the Italian gets so engrossed that he stops translating.
The instructor tells the couple that if the cylinder pressure reads 230 bar they shouldnt worry (theyre rated to 207 bar). Hes not using props or cue cards, his regulator is leaking and the cylinder strap on the womans BC is faulty.
Hussein decides to see the equipment-room, and uncovers a further catalogue of errors: no service records, very few maintenance tools, faulty cylinders next to ones in use, no dust-caps, no depth gauges and, with a slight twist of the hand, a low-pressure hose unscrews from the first stage.
To top it all, Hussein sees a cylinder with a gap between the pillar-valve and body so wide that he finds a new use for his ID card as he demonstrates the fault to the manager.
None of what Ive seen would lead me to believe that this is a safe centre, but Hussein is more diplomatic: Yes, its having problems. We want to help, but it has only got a month to achieve the standards and I doubt it will.

Day Three
Im promised another newsworthy visit further down the coast, in Safaga.
This time Ill be with Amr as he revisits a very slippery customer at the Calypso Dive Centre.
Before we set off, Amr shows me the actions from the last inspection. The owner was required to: buy 33 cylinders and six regulators; the compressor needed maintenance; and a service schedule was required for all equipment.
The centre also had to demonstrate use of: a price list, check-in forms, boat-lists, oxygen and a first-aid kit. Lets see if hes complied or not, or even if hes still there! grins Amr.
One side of the street leading to the hotel where the centre is based looks as if its being demolished. The other is like a building site. The top floor of the hotel is still being built.
Theres no-one present except kitchen staff. Theyre diving - no-ones here, says a cook. Amr insists on looking around anyway. In minutes, one of the owners associates turns up. He says: Theres been no diving here since last year - we have no cylinders, compressor or any other equipment. Were closed.
Amr checks the table for First Aid, Equipment, Maintenance and Records, looking for any indication that the centre is currently open, but it suggests that the last dives were in October 2008.
Then Amr finds the evidence he is looking for and its pretty damning. The customer comments book shows diving taking place up to a few days before.
He shows the entries to the associate, who just smiles and asks: Would you like a drink
As we leave, Amr tells me: Closure is almost certain. The owner is exposing clients to danger and lining his pockets. He thought he could weave his way through the inspection process, but hes been caught out. Weve been in the industry too long - we know the tricks!

Day Four
Atie, manager of Sharm El Naga dive centre, is nervous. Helped by Abdul, its maintenance engineer, he presents Hazem with random records, and starts babbling about how hes doing his best to qualify staff to Rescue Diver and Divemaster.
Hazem tries to calm him down, but Atie is all over the place. He cant find most of the records, and what he does find is not what Hazem is looking for.
Out of the pile of folders, Hazem zones in on customer records. This one, Mr Green, can you show me his waiver
After five minutes of frantically looking for his signed form, Atie gives up. You pick the one that is missing, how did you do that
Hazem smiles. I dreamt of it last night, he says.
After an hour of inspecting unsatisfactory paperwork, we move to the equipment-room. The first BC Hazem picks up seems to have a leak, but this is nothing compared to what he finds on the regulator rack. Where are the depth gauges he asks.
Atie isnt sure: I think not all of them have them.
Hazem finds a gauge, but its flooded. Your records say that you check these once every three months and maintain them once a year Atie senses what is coming next. Show me the records for this one. Atie is quiet for a moment, and then sheepishly says: Cant.
Hazem continues, and finds cracked hoses and dirty filters. Its time for a challenge. You maintain these only when something goes wrong Atie is reeling, but at least hes honest. Yes, probably.
While this dive-inspection humiliation is taking place, Abdul walks out of a store-room, smiling and holding a bunch of shiny new hoses. Hazem looks at them in disbelief. You can start on getting your records straight now. Those need fitting today.
The compressor-room is the one area in which Abdul gets a pat on the back, but then it all goes awry. Some of the cylinders are out of date, and the company used to inspect the others is not approved by the CDWS: All it does is put detergent inside to make them smell nice, says Hazem.
Atie needs a regular maintenance programme, but when Hazem offers to show him how to put one together, there is conflict. Abdul has been king of this castle for several years. Hes not for changing, and Who am I to change Abduls way asks Atie.
He is the manager, after all, but diplomatic Hazem calmly says: It isnt my way, its the ISO way.
As we walk out of the equipment-room, we pass two helmet diving scooters. Youve got a long way to go before well let you put one of those in the water! exclaims Hazem.
It transpires that Atie is not only manager but the only qualified instructor and divemaster at the centre. When he boasts that he intends to put his diving staff through emergency drills every three months, Hazem jumps on the obvious flaw: If youre the only instructor and guide, how are you going to do those drills - with yourself

ATIE TRIES TO EXPLAIN his emergency plans, but its hard to picture them in an office, so we head to the beach where most of the centres diving takes place. Atie explains how the supervision of divers is conducted and how the emergency plan would work.
Hazem is not convinced: Can your beach supervisor tell me how many divers are in the water Atie says nothing. And is he qualified - with oxygen, a first-aid kit, binoculars, an emergency plan and some way of communicating with the centre
Atie tries to remonstrate: What about lunch What if he needs to go to the toilet Hazem is unsympathetic: Five minutes can kill someone - you must find a way of achieving these points. From today!
The inspection continues, with Hazem telling Atie what needs doing, and Atie trying to find a less resource-intensive alternative. But as Hazem says, the standards arent open to negotiation.
Before we leave, I ask Atie how he feels. OK, he replies, but I dont believe him. His legs are shaking and he is chain-smoking. I ask again. He looks shell-shocked, waits several seconds and just says: Rome wasnt built in a day.
Perhaps not, but Sharm El Naga has just over a month, and if Atie doesnt achieve the standards in that time, there will be no centre for him to manage.

I SPEND THE NEXT COUPLE OF DAYS diving with the Ilios Dive Club at the Steigenberger Hotel in Hurghada. This was one of the first centres to achieve ISO certification, and its easy to see why. Every process, from registration to handing back rental equipment, is run according to the standards.
On the dive boat I meet Rob Walker from the south of England. He had dived with Aties centre the day after the inspection and told me: There was beach cover and we did get signed in and out of the water, but the equipment we hired looked really old. My octopus didnt really work, and I had to suck hard to get any air to come through.
Had he pointed this out He had and the reply - Im sure it will work if you need it - said it all.
By the time this is published, youll be able to find out whether the Piano Dive Club is using its depth gauges, if Calypso has binned its customer-feedback book and if Atie has finally realised that his role is to manage and make the ISO standards happen.
So, can the CDWS inspectors be trusted to get the job done Well, theyve already closed down more than 20 dive centres, and its highly likely that therell be more. I saw enough to be convinced - the Red Sea is about to say farewell to dodgy dive centres and safari boats, and its these inspectors who will make it happen. Judge for yourself on your next visit.

Egypts Chamber of Diving & Watersports operates under the umbrella of the Egyptian Tourism Federation, and membership is compulsory for any dive centre or safari boat. If an operator is not a member, the Ministry of Tourism will not issue the licence required for legal operation.
The only way to become a member is to pass the inspection process and achieve ISO certification. All dive operations must now meet the standards adopted by the European Underwater Federation (EN 14467/ISO 24803).
The federation clearly sets out how an inspection should be conducted, and the compliance criteria, which cover:

Information about the service
Risk assessments
Emergency equipment
Emergency procedures
Diving equipment
Training and education
Training locations
Organised dives
Guided dives
Locations used
Rental of equipment - service and staff knowledge

Auditing of dive centres began in June 2008 and the results of the Hurghada area inspections are revealed this month.

Over three decades, I have dived all over the world with a variety of diving operations. Even in the most litigation-prone locations I have visited, such as the USA and the Caribbean, there are many centres I would have considered well run but that would not comply with these stringent standards.

The standards are great for the industry. The owner of this boat has spent a lot of money ensuring that we meet all the safety standards, so getting the ISO certificate should not be difficult.
Adrian Achermann, manager of the Seven Seas safari boat
The Red Sea Association was sometimes viewed as supporting the dangerous operations - its good to know that the Chamber means business, and that something is being done about them.
Anonymous dive-centre manager
I remember when the standards were first announced, and the discussion about whether they were needed or not. What impressed me was the Chambers attitude. It just told everyone its not up for discussion, theyre compulsory.
Laurenz Geihsler, manager of MenaDive, Safaga
Were very proud to have achieved certification, and of the positive reaction of our customers. The standards will put an end to the teabag dive centres - dip them in for six minutes and take $30!
Farid Abdel Al, Course Director at Blue Water Dive Resort, Hurghada
As a customer, Im relying on a centre meeting some kind of minimum standard. It doesnt cross your mind that it might not be meeting any standard at all. Rob Walker, visiting diver
Previously there was nowhere to go if you witnessed unsafe practices - you just kept quiet and hoped nothing happened.
Anonymous dive instructor
More than 20 centres have already been closed down in the Sinai, and more will follow here for sure. Using the ISO standards shows how serious the Egyptian government is. The worry was that there would be corruption, but the inspectors are well-paid and are all trusted within the industry. Theres nothing that gets past them!
Martina Aziz, Manager at Ilios Dive Club, Hurghada