On Monday Four Corners presents “The Price of Pearl?” by reporter Debbie Whitmont, looking at what price is being paid by young divers who fetch pearl shells from the deep?
When a 22-year-old Melbourne man travels to Broome for a job as a pearl diver, he’s hoping for the adventure of a lifetime. But his job – diving for Australia’s best known pearl producer, Paspaley Pearls – ends with his tragic death. Four Corners’ reporter Debbie Whitmont investigates the risks divers take as they search for shells that produce one of the world’s most luxurious products.
Whitmont uncovers an industry that, despite the glamour of its advertising, still searches for pearls as it did when it first started last century. The hard hats and moon suits may have gone, but the fleet still goes out when the tides are smallest, the divers are attached to the boat by an air hose and underwater the dangers and demands on the divers are almost unchanged.
“We have to physically hold onto the rope and get dragged by the boat under water. So you can imagine the pain in your hands and your arms and not being able to just let go.” – Pearl Diver
Disturbingly, Whitmont finds out that when things go wrong, there are no compulsory rescue procedures and training in place.
“You need a safety boat to come and collect the diver. You’ve only got a minute or two. You can’t be frigging around, you know, saying ‘oh what will we do now’?” – Diving Expert
For an industry that’s worth close to $200 million, Four Corners raises serious questions about its work practices and asks whether stricter safety measures might help prevent the deaths of other young divers.
Monday 9th July at 8.30pm on ABC1.