The Price Of Pearl

Reported by Debbie Whitmont and presented by Kerry O'Brien, the following went to air on Monday 9th July 2012 at 8.30pm on ABC1. It was replayed on Tuesday 10th July at 11.35pm and was also  seen on ABC News 24 on Saturdays at 8.00pm, on ABC iview and at 4 Corners.

KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: A haunting question from a haunted mother: why indeed did her pearl diving son die that day off the north-western Australian coast? And is Australia's pearl industry as safe as it should be.

Welcome to Four Corners.

Australia's pearling industry is worth some $200 million a year because pearls from here are amongst the world's most beautiful and most expensive. Business has been incredibly good for one family company in particular, the Paspaley company. But for the pearl divers, it's a dangerous exercise in which an industry code of practice is self-regulated, in contrast to tougher enforceable regulations for divers working in the oil and gas industries.

The common technique in pearling is called drift diving, and as you're about to see, it's demanding and extremely challenging. There have been no drift diving deaths in the industry for more than 20 years and the Paspaley company says it hasn't had a work-related death at least since records began in the '60s.

But tonight's program suggests that that safety record may now be tarnished. It tells the story of a young, fit and experienced diver who died in mysterious circumstances. You'll also hear from a former senior company diver who left after warning that a serious accident was just waiting to happen. Here is the result of Debbie Whitmont's investigation.

DEBBIE WHITMONT, REPORTER: It was Saturday night, 14th April, a south Melbourne suburb and the middle of the night door knock that every family dreads hearing. It was the police.

TONY HAMPTON: The police were at the door. Of course you have a lot of things running through your mind and I was just hoping that one of my boys was, um, at the police station in a lot of trouble, basically. That's what I was hoping.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: It was nearly 4 am and two of the Hampton's three boys were already home in bed. But their oldest son Jarrad, who was 22, was on the other side of the country on pearl a boat off the remote coast of north-western Australia.

TONY HAMPTON: The police insisted we sit down before they say anything, and that's when we knew it was something very, very serious that we we didn't want to admit to ourselves, ...

ROBYN HAMPTON: Kept asking ...

TONY HAMPTON: ... but we had to sit down.

ROBYN HAMPTON: Kept asking them at the door, "Don't - please don't tell us it's bad news."

TONY HAMPTON: So, we were just absolutely, totally distraught, quite obviously. Um, and when the police sat us down, um, they asked us if we're the parents of Jarrad. And just basically I think we were in shock.

ROBYN HAMPTON: I can't remember whether they said he'd drowned, and I said "Did the whole boat sink? I mean, how can that happen? I mean, has the whole boat sunk?" And they said just Jarrad.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The Hamptons were given a phone number for the police in Broome.

ROBYN HAMPTON: I rang them twice, 'cause I said there must be something wrong, he must have the wrong name. And they said no, and I insisted, I said, "You must have the wrong name." And, um - so then we - they just assured us that they're sorry, but it was Jarrad, and, um, so we went up there.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: It had only been Jarrad Hampton's second day on the job working as a pearl diver for the biggest pearl producer in Australia, Paspaley Pearls. James Paspaley met Jarrad Hampton's family in Broome.

ROBYN HAMPTON: They took us to our room and they pulled together the chairs around the table and they said, "Now ask us some questions." And I looked at James and I said, "Well, what happened?"

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The Hamptons were told that during the second last dive of the day Jarrad had come to the surface early and waved his hand for help.

TONY HAMPTON: He made an emergency ascent. We don't know what happened underwater for him to make that emergency ascent, but he did. He was in trouble of some sort. And they got him back to the boat basically and couldn't revive him.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Ever since Jarrad died his family has been trying to understand what went wrong.

ROBYN HAMPTON: He arrived on the surface alive. He raised his arm. There's even talk that he called out twice for help. Now, this is where the whole issue begins. Jarrad was alive.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: For Jarrad Hampton, life had only just been beginning.

JAKE HAMPTON, JARRAD'S BROTHER: Yeah, he had a lot of friends, yeah. He's a very confident, natural person and I think that's what most people saw in him. He's so good, he'll always come in for a hug, you know, he wouldn't just shake your hand. He was just such a happy person to be round, very positive. He got along with everyone.

TONY HAMPTON: Oh, he was always a very lively character, very happy-go-lucky character, very popular boy. Full of life - always was. He was a difficult boy to catch up with a lot of the time.

ROBYN HAMPTON: Jarrad did love water, he loved to surf, and I remember when he was 15 and big and the surf was big and I knew it was too big for me I pulled him in and I said, "Jaz," I said, "You've gone too far now." I said, "Now you're out the back; I can't get you."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Last year Jarrad and his best friend Lachie Ford went diving at The Pit, an inland cave near the east coast of Mexico.

LACHIE FORD, JARRAD'S FRIEND: You jump into a hole and then all of a sudden it's just this incredible new world. Stalactites, stalagmites that have grown when the cave was out of water 150 million years ago. It's a different energy. The whole time we were just blown away, sort of looking at each other just like, "This is incredible." Straight up and down, like, Jarrad was - he loved diving. You came out of the water with sort of tears of joy in your mask.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Jarrad's love of diving ran in the family. His mother Robyn used to be a dive master herself

ROBYN HAMPTON: Oh, it just surprised me that he should end up doing what once his mum had done. (Laughs). But, no, I was surprised that he was so taken by it.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Jarrad Hampton was a qualified diving instructor and worked in the Whitsundays with tourists. But he wanted to get a skippers license and that meant building up his hours at sea. His friend Lachie Ford met someone who worked at Paspaley Pearls.

TONY HAMPTON: And they were very excited about the whole idea of Paspaley Pearls. They had a look at the website and the website spruiked a world standard safety conditions and it was a very big company with great equipment. And of course there was the excitement of exploring the Kimberley and Broome ...


TONY HAMPTON: And those areas as well. You know, there was a certain element of excitement about it as well.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: All that Paspaley asked for for pearl diving was a basic scuba certificate. So Jarrad sent off his resume and in mid-January he got a phone call.

TONY HAMPTON: It was ah his eventual skipper, Ron, who rang up and just said, "You're on my boat. I want you here by middle of February."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Tony Hampton rang Paspaley Pearls and spoke to the Fleet Manager.

TONY HAMPTON: He was as reassuring as possible. My last question to him that day was, "OK, stupid question I know, but is it dangerous?" To which he said, "Absolutely. Diving is dangerous full stop." And I said, "Yeah, sure. OK, I understand that."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: And what did he say about safety?

TONY HAMPTON: They gave us an assurance that, you know, they had backup and they had facilities for rescuing divers in dangerous positions.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: In February, Jarrad Hampton left home for Darwin. He was going to work for a company run by one of the richest families in Australia.

ROBYN HAMPTON: Even we heard down here that Paspaley had a very good safety record and that they have a lotta great safety features and we thought, "Thank goodness he's going with such a good company. Isn't he lucky to have had got a job with them?"

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The Paspaley family has built its fortune on pearling. From one pearl lugger in the 1930s, Paspaley Pearls now brings in more than $100 million a year. And it's still a family business, ruled by Nick Paspaley, a Companion of the Order of Australia and run by his oldest son, James.

But Paspaley isn't only about pearling. There's Pearl Aviation, Aero Rescue and Pearl Marine. There are the family's cattle stations, the family's real estate, the family jet and an interest in the Darwin Detention Centre. And the Paspaley's wealth is growing. This year the Paspaley family moved up the rich list to become the 13th richest family in Australia worth an estimated $900 million.

LACHIE FORD: Yeah, it was all positive, you know, it was all positive. When we're up in Darwin, we were, you know, both just stoked to be part of this company.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: In Darwin, before starting as pearl divers, Jarrad Hampton and Lachie Ford first had to do a compulsory three-day course and pass an exam run by the Pearl Producers Association, or PPA, an industry lobby group of which Paspaley Pearls is the most powerful member and James Paspaley is the chairman.

LACHIE FORD: We did overviews of safety on the boat, we did overviews of marine hazards, which predominantly revolved around sort of protecting yourself from irukandji, because they probably are the biggest threat.


LACHIE FORD: Yeah the - yeah, the little irukandji jellyfish.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The only practical part of the course involved a half day in a Darwin swimming pool. Jonno Davis did the course last year.

How well do you feel that it prepared you for actually going in and doing the diving, given that you're pretty experienced?

JONNO DAVIS, PASPALEY DIVER: At the time when I was doing the course, I thought it was pretty reasonable, but in hindsight, there's so much more that the course could have involved. Ah, however it's ...


JONNO DAVIS: Um, like diving in an actual, like, ocean.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Before working with tourists Jarrad Hampton had done an advanced course in sea safety. And to become a scuba instructor, he'd had to learn to do rescues in the water. But there's nothing like that required for pearl diving.

We asked the Pearl Producers what the new divers are taught for rescuing divers in trouble in the water.

BRETT MCCALLUM, PEARL PRODUCERS' ASSOCIATION: The course runs through the use of bailout bottles which is a independent, ah, source of air that every diver carries ...

DEBBIE WHITMONT: That's for rescuing yourself. What about for rescuing another diver?

BRETT MCCALLUM: They're also given instruction on, ah, removing unconscious divers from the water. But the, the ...



DEBBIE WHITMONT: But if those in this year's course were taught to rescue other divers, they don't remember it.

What procedures did they teach you for rescuing somebody in the water?

LACHIE FORD: That is something that we haven't covered. Yeah, we, we, um - in sort of in sort of saying that the boats, we - it's, it's, it's about your self-help - self-helping yourself out of a dangerous situation. Um ...

DEBBIE WHITMONT: So are you saying there was no procedure for rescuing somebody in the water?

LACHIE FORD: Well, as far as I can recall, we haven't touched on anything like that.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: What procedure were you taught if another diver needed rescuing?

DAIMEN HAMPSON, PASPALEY DECKHAND (2012): I can't remember one that stands out, actually. Like, um, ...

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Do you think there was one at all?

DAIMEN HAMPSON: (Pause) Not that I can remember.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: And surprisingly, the industry says the three-day course isn't meant to train new divers for drift diving.

BRETT MCCALLUM: The induction course is not a training course and that needs to be clearly stated. It's an induction.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: So if people leave the course and they're not ready to do drift diving, what are they ready to do?

BRETT McCALLUM: Ah, they're ready to do whatever the company wants them to do.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: This year, that meant Paspaley sent Jarrad Hampton and others straight to Broome to go drift diving.

These days in Broome, the pearl capital, the dangers of pearl diving are sold as part of its history. But over the decades, though the hard hats have gone, the job of collecting shells from the bottom of the ocean has changed very little. Even now, Broome's pearlers are ruled by the tides. They only go out near the quarter moon, or the neap, when the tides are smallest. And still today, those on land wait for their return.

By the neap tide in April, Jarrad Hampton was on the Paspaley II and getting ready to head south to Eighty Mile Beach where Paspaley collects large wild oyster shells to make cultured pearls at its pearl farms.

TONY HAMPTON: He was excited, he was looking forward to the adventure of it all, he was looking forward to the challenge of it all. He thought he had a great future.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Were you worried?

TONY HAMPTON: Yes. I was always worried about it, yeah.

ROBYN HAMPTON: Yeah, we felt sick.

Tony Hampton: There wasn't a time where I could go into water where I didn't think about Jarrad and what he was doing.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The Paspaley II had eight divers as well as an engineer, cook, domestic, deckhand and skipper, Ron Watson. As it left Broome on 12th April, five of the eight divers on board were about to do what's known as drift diving for the very first time. And it was also Sam Morton's first trip as head diver.

SAM MORTON, HEAD DIVER, PASPALEY II: Drift diving's very demanding on your body. I don't think they could really teach that anywhere. Or I don't think anyone'd believe you if you told them what to expect.

JARRAD NORTON, PASPALEY DIVER 2005-'11: All you can hear underwater the whole time is just, "Woob, woob, woob, woob, woob, woob, woob," and that's just the propeller going around and round. And bubbles, like Darth Vader, all you can hear is (makes noise) and then just bubbles.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The Paspaley II works with four drift divers off either side. The divers breathe through long yellow air hoses which are also the only things keeping them attached to the boat.

SAM MORTON: Well basically, they call it drift diving 'cause we get pulled behind a boat.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The boat moves constantly, and underwater, each diver has a weighted work line which he has to hold onto while picking up the shells.

SAM MORTON: We have to physically hold onto a rope and get dragged by the boat underwater. So you can imagine the pain in your hands and your arms and not being able to just let go.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Each day in nine 45-minute dives each diver is dragged along at a depth of about 15 metres underwater for around 20 kilometres. Often, each diver can't even see the diver next to him.

SAM MORTON: You have to physically hold on for nine dives a day. Sometimes if the boat's going a bit quick or if you turn round, you'll hit the end of the rope. Like, you'll hit the warning knot and by the time you spin round to grab it, sometimes it'll shoot off.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: If a diver lets go of his rope, or work line, the only way to get back to the boat is by pulling himself up his yellow air hose to the surface.

JARRAD NORTON: Well then you see the boat and the boat's a long, long, long, long, long, long, long way away and you have to pull all the way up your hose.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Getting back is exhausting.

JARRAD NORTON: You can't stop the boat. The boat's not just gonna stop and wait for you to get there. It's just all upper strength from there and pull yourself all the way to the front.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But one of the hardest parts of the job comes at the end of every dive when each diver has to swim his big bag of shells across the worklines to an underwater winch near the boat which is still moving forward.

JARRAD NORTON: So the boat's still going forward and you're trying to find a winch to clip on. And it's alright for the guy on the number one line 'cause he's - it's right in front of him, it drops down right in front of him, but the outside two divers, they have to swim quite a long distance and not much visibility and guess on like a bearing to know which way to go to clip a bag onto this ring.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Between each dive, there's 20 minutes on deck for shell cleaning and a snack, then it's back in the water nine times a day from first light to darkness. So much time in the water makes the divers wetsuits chafe their skin off.

JARRAD NORTON: 'Cause when you sign up, you're not told that you're gonna have holes, like, drilled into your elbows and your knees so you're missing skin and you got blood coming out your nose every day and in the middle of the night your hands are throbbing so hard you can't sleep. Your fingernails are all lifted off your fingers from clenching onto rope as tight as you can all day. You know, you're not used to that.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: It's hard to know how much of that anyone told Jarrad Hampton. On the first day out, he was on line two, next to the head diver Sam Morton on line one.

SAM MORTON: He seemed real good under the water, comfy, had all his right gear. He was good.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Did he seem to be enjoying it?

SAM MORTON: Yeah, he was lovin' it.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But as head diver, Sam Morton had a problem. Though it was his job to supervise new divers, there were five on the boat and he could only properly watch one of them at a time.

SAM MORTON: It's always gonna be a worry with that amount of new workers in any workforce let alone a dangerous job like diving and underwater, so, yeah, it was always playing on my mind about what the new guys are doing under the water and how they're gettin' on.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: So on the second day out the new divers were rotated and Jarrad Hampton was moved to line three, which meant he was now in between two first-time drift divers.

During the second dive of the day, Jarrad struck trouble. The visibility had suddenly dropped to zero.

SAM MORTON: Yeah, we hit what we call a mud monster which is when the vis drops right out to nothing. And so the dive got called off.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Jarrad Hampton later told Sam Morton he'd let go of his work line to swim his big bag of shells to the winch, but he missed it.

SAM MORTON: It'd be like trying to walk through a cloud in the sky, not being able to see where you're going, just guessing where you're going. And he just judged it wrong. Easy to do for a new diver. Just ended up missing all the ropes together. Ended up going right out the back of the boat.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Sam Morton saw him and swam out and helped. Later on deck, they talked about it.

SAM MORTON: And he said, "Oh, it's hard work, isn't it?" And I said, "Yeah, mate, it's hard work when somethin' like that happens. You won't be doing that again, will you?" He goes, "No, no, definitely won't be doing that again." So at that stage I thought, "Tick that off the list. Jarrad knows all about that," you know? "If he's out the back, he knows what to do."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: How did he seem?

SAM MORTON: Good. He had a bit of a laugh, "Yeah, I won't be doing that again." Um, yeah, he just knew - I could see it in his eyes that he knew not to do that again.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Does that mean he knew not to let go of the work rope, do you think?


DEBBIE WHITMONT: But later that day Jarrad Hampton lost his work line again. On either the sixth or seventh dive he told another diver on the boat that he almost drowned.

JAYDE THEODORE, PASPALEY DIVER, 2012: He got into trouble, he lost his work line and he told me he nearly drowned and I just sorta laughed at him, thought it was a figure of speech, but he he didn't laugh back, which was unusual for him 'cause he's always laughin' and jokin'. And, um, that's when I realised that he was serious.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: So if that happened to you a couple of times in a day, particularly if you were new, how do you think you'd be feeling?

JARRAD NORTON: I can't - you can't breathe. Honestly, just, just absolutely shattered, absolutely shattered.

JAYDE THEODORE: I said. "Ohh, are you OK?," and he's, "Yeah, yeah I'm alright. I just need to have a smoke," and he's trying to roll a cigarette. And then, um, yeah he didn't have time because we run out - the 20 minutes was over and we had to chip our shells and all that and then - so he had to throw his smoke and got back in.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: It was the eighth dive of the day. It would be Jarrad Hampton's last.

Two days after Jarrad died, his family spoke to the crew and the skipper.

TONY HAMPTON: The skipper told us that the deckhand came to him in the cabin and said there is a diver up and I think he yelled help.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: At that point Jarrad was about 30 to 50 metres away from the boat. It's unclear at what point the skipper realised there was an emergency. The skipper said he slowed the boat down slightly.

TONY HAMPTON: I said, "How long before you took that action?" He said, "About a minute." So there was no action for about a minute, then all he did was slow the boat 0.2 of a knot and then went about knocking the divers up.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But the skipper hadn't given the divers an emergency signal. So he said he had to call them up a second time.

TONY HAMPTON: When Jarrad didn't report at his decompression station he again said, "I'll give him another minute, assuming he's having trouble with his shell bag." This is in light - despite the fact that Jarrad had surfaced and acknowledged - had yelled out help.

ROBYN HAMPTON: This idea that, "Jarrad's having trouble with his shell bag, I'll just give him another minute," what, another minute to drown? I mean, you've only knocked them up because Jarrad came up distressed and Jarrad still hasn't risen. Why give him another minute?

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But there was no-one on deck equipped to jump in for a rescue. And according to best practice, there should have been.

Dr Carl Edmonds has more than 40 years experience in diving safety. He says the Australian Standard, which is followed by most occupational divers, says that where divers are working underwater there should at least be a standby diver on deck.

CARL EDMONDS, DIVING MEDICAL CENTRE, 1971-2001: The standby diver is the one that goes to the person quickly, very rapidly. He's already dressed raring to go the whole time, rescues the diver, brings him to the surface and then you've gotta have a way of getting him onto the safety boat and on the safety boat have some form of resuscitation. That's what you need. You've only got a minute or two. You can't be frigging around saying, "Oh, what'll we do now?"

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But the Paspaley II didn't have a safety boat - or standby diver. And no emergency signal was given.

CARL EDMONDS: There is no procedure if there's an emergency because they haven't got the things they need. They don't have the equipment, they don't have the boat, they don't have the standby diver. They don't even have a real effective way of calling the people to the surface. You know, any, any reasonable diving operation, you can - there's an obvious emergency signal.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But though the Australian Standard recommends a stand by diver, it's a standard, not a law, so the Pearl Producers say they don't have to follow it.

If you don't have a standby diver, how do you get a diver who is in trouble in the water?

BRETT MCCALLUM: Well the boats themselves have, have to work that capacity out and work out how they do that. And in most cases the diver is retrieved by either dragging on the hose or they will go and pick him up if he's, ah, if he's available there.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Why not have a standby diver?

BRETT MCCALLUM: The pearling industry doesn't feel it necessary to have a standby diver.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: In the water, though Sam Morton had heard the knock up signal, he had no way of knowing there was anything wrong.

SAM MORTON: I thought, "Oh, maybe Jarrad must have gone up to the top." And, um, I just thought 'cause Jarrad had done it on dive two, maybe he's done it on dive eight and he's just a bit tired, he's gone up to the boat and, um, and called - Ron's called it off.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: It wasn't till about five minutes later while doing his end-of-dive decompression that Sam Morton happened to look upwards.

SAM MORTON: I looked up and that's when I looked back and I saw the skipper and the engineer in the water swimming and I looked back and that's when I saw Jarrad. He was just face down and they were trying to help him out, and, ah, yeah, that's when it all sorta just - like a bit of a sledgehammer: "Oh, s**t; something's happened here, ya know."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The deckhand was pulling Jarrad to the boat by his air hose.

SAM MORTON: Jarrad was just face down in the water, basically being dragged by his hose, just - the deckie had started pulling him in.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But drift divers don't wear buoyancy compensators and Jarrad's face was in the water with his mask full of bubbles.

SAM MORTON: Went up as quick as I could, swam out to him. First thing I did was, "Oh, he's gotta breathe," so I spun him round so his head was out of the water.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Sam and Jarrad were about 20 or 30 metres from the boat.

SAM MORTON: So I just put my arm on his bailout, swam back to the boat as quick as I could, and with the boat moving, that's pretty slow, but I did it as quick as I could.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But the drift divers had never practised a procedure for rescuing a diver in trouble in the water.

SAM MORTON: I sat up on the ladder. I pulled him up out of the water, tried to get his mouth up outta the water. Tried to see if he was breathing, give him a bit of a shake, "Come on, Jarrad, wake up," started talking to him, "Come on, buddy, have a breath, have a breath."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But even though they'd reached the ladder, there was nothing to help get an unconscious diver out of the water.

ROBYN HAMPTON: And I said to them, "How did you get Jaz up?," and they said "Up here" and I said "Up that ladder?" And they said, "Yes and it was very difficult, awkward," and I said, "That's the way you got my son up out of the water?" And they said "Yes."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: As Jarrad Hampton was being pulled out on one side, Jayde Theodore was getting out of the water on the other. He says it was about 15 minutes after he'd heard the second signal to the divers.

JAYDE THEODORE: It was about 15 minutes by the time I got on deck and Jarrad was being pulled out of the water on the opposite side to me at the same time I stepped on deck, he'd been pulled out.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: How long do you believe Jarrad was in the water for?

TONY HAMPTON: Close to 20 minutes.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: After he signalled.

TONY HAMPTON: After he signalled.

ROBYN HAMPTON: Now we are the first to say, "Maybe they could never have revived him." We would accept that. But we cannot accept that he was in the water for up to 10 to 20 minutes with no chance of revival.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: On deck, Sam and the skipper did CPR for nearly an hour.

SAM MORTON: We kept going. Yeah, I didn't wanna stop. Um, just thought with some miracle he might come round, take a breath.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Not one of the four boats in the fleet carried a defibrillator. But one did carry body bags. It took the Paspaley II eight hours to get Jarrad Hampton's body back to Broome.

TONY HAMPTON: Jarrad has yelled out twice and waved his arm. He made the surface, he alerted the people on the boat that he was in trouble.

ROBYN HAMPTON: He pulled off his end of the deal. Whatever occurred underneath, he managed it. He managed his emergency ascent. He couldn't do anything more and he knew he couldn't do anything more. He called for help. There's a whole big boat there, a boat that's been involved in an industry for years. He is retrievable. He is attached to the - to the ship. How can they not get him? How can they not know what to do?

CARL EDMONDS: Divers deserve better than this. These are people who are going into very dangerous areas. They're doing very hazardous diving, it's very, very hard work. They need the basic stuff which is given to you in the manuals. If you're not gonna do the basic stuff, then there's something wrong with the system.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: We may never know exactly why Jarrad Hampton came to the surface that day and signalled for help. But it wasn't only the lack of emergency equipment and procedures that failed him. According to some of the company's most experienced divers, whatever happened underwater might well have been avoided. It was only a matter of money.

When Mick Case heard Jarrad Hampton had died, he says was disgusted, but he wasn't surprised.

MICK CASE, PASPALEY DIVER, 2001-'10: No-one was surprised. A lotta people in the community down here that are not in pearling weren't surprised 'cause they know what the industry's - what it demands of you.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Mick Case used to be Paspaley's head company diver. He says it wasn't safe for the Paspaley II to have had so many first-time divers.

How many green divers would you say is safe on a boat?

MICK CASE: One to two. Two max'.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But the Paspaley II had five first-time drift divers which made it impossible for the head diver to closely monitor all of them.

Does that mean the head diver can meet the terms of his contract?

MICK CASE: No. 'Cause you're supposed to closely monitor it and the only way you can closely monitor someone is if they're right beside you on their number two line. You can't have five divers on one line.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: But Mick Case isn't the only one to have recently left Paspaley. Last year, another nine senior divers quit the company, taking with them more than 80 years of drift diving experience. And many were replaced by first-time drift divers.

MICK CASE: With mass exoduses like that, you can't put that many green divers in the water. We got a few experienced guys to look after 'em.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: So what did you think when when you heard they'd all gone?

MICK CASE: I thought there's gonna be - there's gonna be a fatality soon.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: With all the danger and discomfort, very few would do drift diving if it wasn't for the money. A few years ago, Mick Case and Sam Morton were picking up 500 shells a day, being paid $4.50 for each of them and making around $80,000 a season.

But as the GFC started, Paspaley began dropping its shell price, often only telling the divers that their pay would be cut at the beginning of the season as they were about to sign their contracts.

SAM MORTON: They just tell us, "This is how it is. Here's your contract, sign it. If you don't like it, leave."

DEBBIE WHITMONT: By 2011 Paspaley had put the shell price down by a dollar to $3.50 a shell, which for a good diver meant a pay cut of $20,000 a season.

In April last year, with the economy picking back up, Sam Morton and others wrote to Paspaley asking for the shell price to start going up again. If it didn't, they warned, the company would struggle to keep its experienced divers.

And what response did you get to that letter?

SAM MORTON: Not a positive one.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: What do you mean by that?

SAM MORTON: Sorta got shrugged off basically.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: When Paspaley refused to offer any more money, its experienced divers began leaving and many were replaced by first-time drift divers.

Were you worried about the number of new divers, the greenies?


DEBBIE WHITMONT: Was there anything you could do about that?

SAM MORTON: Nothing I hadn't already tried to tell the company.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: When Jarrad Norton heard of Jarrad Hampton's death, he was furious.

JARRAD NORTON: Angry, anger. It was just anger. Because all these people that had left, you know, decades and decades of experience, we all started to leave and we all knew it was gonna happen.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: And what really disturbs Jarrad Norton is that at the end of last year he told Paspaley management that if nothing changed, it was likely that this season somebody would die. He gave the warning when a senior Paspaley manager offered him a job as a head diver. He didn't want it.

JARRAD NORTON: I just didn't want that responsibility of that many lives. And I said to the person in question, I said "I promise you, I guarantee you next year you'll have a serious accident or a fatality unless something changes." And he said, "We'll cross that hurdle when we get to it." And that was enough for me. I was like - I didn't want any part of that.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: How do you think they could have avoided this death?

JARRAD NORTON: Kept the money where it was, really.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Now back home in New Zealand, Sam Morton is devastated by Jarrad Hampton's death.

SAM MORTON: Oh, yeah, it's been pretty hard. Pretty gutting having to leave pearling like that.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Sam Morton says it would have cost Paspaley about half a million dollars to put the shell price back up and hold onto its experienced divers. It's about the price of a top-of-the-range necklace.

SAM MORTON: Well going on the numbers that were quoted for the company we had half a million shell to catch , half a mill' to take it back up to the original 450, which is where it should be. That's not a lot of money to pay out us divers. All the good workers there who wanted to be there, who wanted to do their thing for the company, wanted to help out, took pride in what we were doing, went the extra mile for the boat. It's not a lotta money to keep a real good workforce.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Do you think that half a million dollars might have helped save a life?

SAM MORTON: Yes, definitely. I think the percentage woulda gone up of him - of someone being able to help him if he was between experienced divers. I can't say that would have saved him or not, but all I can say - and I know that the percentage would have been a lot higher of someone something happen to him, someone being close enough there to help him out if we had more experienced divers on the boat than just having two experienced divers.

TONY HAMPTON: There are only two things we know for sure. This is the last thing in the world he would have wished on his family and friends.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: In Melbourne, there were 900 people at Jarrad Hampton's funeral.

TONY HAMPTON: He'd become a man and his potential was enormous, but we don't get to see his future, which will be a constant source of sadness and loss for all of us.

ROBYN HAMPTON: And so, Jazzy, I love you and I honour you and I honour the infinite potential and wisdom that is within you. Thank you.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: James Paspaley and his father Nick were there too and expressed their regrets. Both declined an interview with Four Corners on the grounds that investigations are ongoing, but said in a statement that safety is Paspaley's highest priority.

Within days of Jarrad Hampton's death, the Paspaley fleet went back out pearling. Four Corners has been told the boats now keep a mask and flippers on the back deck in case of an emergency.

The pearling industry says there's no need for it to make changes because Jarrad Hampton's death still hasn't fully been investigated.

BRETT MCCALLUM: The authorities have no concerns in regards to how we're operating at the moment and they've allowed the vessels to continue to go. The industry will continue to operate in what it believes to be the manner in which it's operated for some time and if we have to make adjustments and make changes at the end of the investigations, then we will do so.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: Two days after Jarrad Hampton died, his family were taken out to visit the Paspaley II.

TONY HAMPTON: The whole trip out was just terribly sad, just very solemn. We got out to the boat, got on board, had a bit of a look around, went down into the cabin, saw Jarrad's bed and his belongings and guitar sitting there, had a look at the gear round the back of the boat and the blackboard where they chalk up their catch. And then we went to get Jarrad's equipment and clothes and belongings. And as we were motoring them back towards Broome, there was an absolutely brilliant sky out and it was a very, very emotional trip.

DEBBIE WHITMONT: The Hamptons point out it wouldn't cost Paspaley much to make the boats safer. What they can't understand is why even after Jarrad's death it still hasn't been done.

TONY HAMPTON: I mean, what does it take before these boats are stopped? Jarrad died. We don't want him to have died in vain. Simple as that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Police investigations are continuing into Jarrad Hampton's death. There is a WA WorkSafe inquiry, but it could take up to three years and a preliminary report has found that Jarrad Hampton's death was consistent with drowning. To date, a coronial inquest has not been announced.

The Paspaley company declined to be interviewed for the program, but in written answers to questions it says it would be misleading to allege that any change in pearl shell price has caused any increase in safety risk for divers. The company's full response is on our website:

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