By Andreas Izamis
The tragic events surrounding the death of 31-year-old Andreas Yiangou of Limassol, who went spearfishing last Saturday off Pomos, brought to light the dangers associated with the sport and free-diving in general.
Yiangou is reported to have gone fishing alone and seems to have experienced some trouble – according to camera footage – with his equipment. Yiangou appeared to strike a big fish but then struggled to surface again, and presumably lost consciousness. Yiangou’s lifeless body was sighted by a fisherman at around 4pm from the Argaka pier on Wednesday; the body was brought to shore by the authorities.
Spearfishing and freediving go hand in hand, and, despite its somewhat ambiguous presence amongst us, it is a recognised sport embraced by thousands across the world, with Cyprus being a leading competitive country.
The Cyprus national spearfishing team were awarded the bronze medal in the World Confederation of Underwater Activities (CMAS) Spearfishing World Championships, after coming third in the team competition during the XXX Spearfishing World Championships 2016 on the Greek island of Syros, while Georgos Vasiliou was crowned world champion, taking first place in the individual competition.
To put things into perspective, the free diving technique used in spear fishing means that no artificial breathing apparatus is used, in other words, no oxygen tanks – so it’s basically taking one deep breath and holding it for as long as possible.
The enthusiasm of participants in this sport, however, does at times cloud judgement.
“We tend to push ourselves to our limits and beyond, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing but overdoing it could lead to hypoxia or drowning,” said a member of the ‘Cyprus Spear-Fishing Team’ (CSFT) a social media group dedicated to the sport.
Safety is probably the most important factor in spearfishing. One of the first things a diver learns in a free-dive course is to never dive alone.
“A partner can save your life,” says CSFT, but does admit that many divers do go out by themselves. Then there is the sea. You need to know your destination, the currents and tides.
“You can’t just run in blind, you need to plan, organise and discuss the route with your dive buddy,” says CSFT.
“Over-confidence usually leads to tragedy,” says Captain Constantinos Fytiris, Commander of the Joint Rescue Coordinating Centre who commanded the search operations in locating the missing Yiangou.
Fytiris pointed out that the Pomos area is quite treacherous and the search by air covered some 350km² primarily due to the strong currents in the area.
A similar response came from the Fotos Socratous, president of the Cyprus Dive Centre Association.
“Unfortunately there are times when we let our bravado cloud our judgement, or we have a tendency – especially us Cypriots, to downplay the dangers or to admit to our own weaknesses,” said Socratous.
“Deaths are few and far between, although four divers have died over the last five years,” said Marios Pafitis a member of the Freediving Friends Club established in 1996 and actively promotes spear-gun fishing.
“Speargun fishing licences should come with some sort of competency test,” said Pafitis, referring to the fact that the Fisheries Department only requires the applicant to be 17 years old before issuing the licence.
To be fair, the Fisheries Department has a list of rules and regulations posted on its website regarding prohibited spear-gun fishing areas, but this has more to do with conservation and the protection of other swimmers than of the actual divers themselves.