Japanese divers found alive after going missing in Bali: police

An Indonesian Navy rescue team searches for seven Japanese divers on February 17, 2014 who went missing from the island of Nusa Lembongan, just east of Bali.

DENPASAR, Indonesia - Four Japanese scuba divers were found alive Monday in waters off the Indonesian resort island of Bali three days after going missing, police said, although there was no news of three others who were with them.

A huge search swung into action after the seven women went missing on Friday during their third dive of the day from the island of Nusa Lembongan, just east of Bali.

Rescue efforts were hampered by poor weather Monday, with a helicopter only able to join the search in the afternoon after being grounded by heavy rain and strong winds in the morning.

But around 3:30 pm (0730 GMT) four of the women were found alive in waters some 300 metres (1,000 feet) off the coast of Nusa Penida, an island just southeast of Bali, said local police chief Nyoman Suarsika.

"They are now being rescued and taken to Sanur," he added, referring to a beach area of southern Bali popular with tourists.

He did not have news of the three women still missing, and could not immediately say exactly where the other four were rescued or give their names.

Distraught relatives of the divers have been arriving in Bali, with a distressed husband of one of them spotted on Sanur beach.

"I'm praying for her safety," the mother of missing instructor Shoko Takahashi told reporters in Japan on Sunday before leaving for Bali, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun daily.

"She is an active person with a dependable personality. She never does foolhardy things."

Takahashi and her husband had set up the operator known as Yellow Scuba that took the divers out on the trip, Japanese consular official Kenichi Takeyama confirmed.

He said two members of her family had joined a small briefing on the search at the consulate in Bali.

"The family members are understandably very concerned and they want to know all the details - what the conditions were like, what the current and temperature was like," Takeyama said.

Takeyama said Yellow Scuba had provided boats and staff for the search.

The women were experienced scuba divers who had logged more than 50 dives each.

The dive boat's skipper said he was following the divers for some 20 minutes before a sudden downpour made the water cloudy, according to Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

He moved his 10-metre-long boat to a point some hundreds of metres away where the divers were expected to resurface at an agreed time, the report said.

When they failed to resurface, the skipper said he searched for them for an hour before reporting the incident.

But Bali province search and rescue chief Didi Hamzar told reporters on Sunday he had received information that the skipper had run out of fuel at some point, and had to refuel before heading to the agreed meeting spot.

John Chapman, a Briton who runs the World Diving Lembongan operation on the island where the women went missing, said the heavy rain and choppy sea could have been a factor in their disappearance.

He said a sudden downpour would have made some safety procedures, such as meeting at a brightly marked buoy, difficult because of poor visibility.

"Often operators coming from Bali, they don't necessarily have the knowledge of the currents and conditions. Some areas are for experienced divers and anyone coming here should make sure they use a good operator," he said.

To assist rescue officials, Chapman on Sunday conducted a dive to simulate the group's, saying the current was "quite gentle" but became much rougher when he surfaced.

Hamzar said the divers left from Blue Point on Nusa Lembongan, an area recommended only for experienced divers because of its strong currents, which often strike suddenly.

Japan's Kyodo news agency said the missing women were named by police and rescue authorities as: Ritsuko Miyata, 59, Emi Yamamoto, 33, Nahomi Tomita, 28, Aya Morizono, 27, Atsumi Yoshinobe, 29, Shoko Takahashi, 29, and Saori Furukawa, 27.

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