KOTA KINABALU: A group of tourist divers got a shock of their lives when they experienced loud explosion underwater near Gaya island off here yesterday.

In the 3pm incident, nine tourist divers along with two dive instructors and two dive masters were about to do a three-minute safety stop when the blast occurred, sending strong underwater shockwave.

The group was diving at the Turtle House dive spot, located within the Tunku Abdul Rahman Park (TARP), and was at 7-metre depth at the time of the explosion.

Dive instructor Cindy Valton George said upon surfacing, he noticed two suspicious men each on board a small boat cruising at the corner of Gaya island, just a close distance from where they were diving.

"I am sure they were doing fish bombing because the explosion was very loud. As we got closer to them, we could see dead fish floating," said the 30-year-old PADI instructor when contacted today.

He said the suspected fish bombers noticed their presence but did not show any guilt. Instead, they slowly moved to shallow waters and towards the water village on Gaya island.

Cindy added that he had reported the incident and had even followed the two pump boats for about 15 minutes but no authority was present to respond to the incident immediately.

He noted the impact of the blast was strong enough to send shiver down their spines and caused fear among the tourist divers.

"When we surfaced, our divers were scared and in shocked. They said 'this is terrible and crazy. We could die and this is so dangerous'," he said, adding that their guests were from China, European, Canada, and United States.

As most dive sites are located within protected marine park, Cindy said he had assured the guests a report was made to the authority and explained to them such fish bombing is illegal.

He then expressed concern that a similar incident in Semporna, where a dive instructor and two Chinese tourists were killed by fish blast last year, could occur in TARP if such fish bombing is not tackled aggressively.

"The state government and Sabah Parks should take action. We are paying marine park conservation fee, so there's no reason for them to say they don't have enough assets and staff.

"Imagine how many divers and tourists putting themselves in danger diving in protected marine park if it is not safe," he said, adding that more patrol and tight security is needed in all tourists islands under Sabah Parks.

TARP consists of five islands namely Manukan, Mamutik, Sapi, Sulug, and Gaya. There have been countless reports and complaints of loud explosion being heard when divers doing leisure dives near these five islands.

Two men onboard a pumpboat suspected to conduct fish bombing near dive site at Pulau Gaya off Kota Kinabalu. -NSTP/COURTESY OF CINDY VALTON GEORGE.