Search for Singaporean continues for third night

Search-and-rescue operations for undergraduate Goh Chuan Kiet entered the third night on Tuesday after his disappearance in the sea off Changi.

The 23-year-old Singaporean went missing on Sunday afternoon. At the time, he was paddle- boarding with his schoolmates from SIM Global Education's windsurfing club when thundery showers hit the area near Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, with winds gusting up to 22 to 25 knots along the coast.

The board and paddle he was using were retrieved by rescuers and fishermen within the day, but there were still no signs of Mr Goh as of last night.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore released a statement on Tuesday evening saying it would continue rescue efforts with the Police Coast Guard and National Service Resort and Country Club, from which Mr Goh had set out on Sunday.

A SIM Global Education spokesman told The Straits Times that the students' outing was not organised by the school, and that "paddle-boarding was not part of the official activities of the club".

Over the past two years, the sport of stand-up paddling (SUP), a form of paddle-boarding, has gained popularity in Singapore. It involves standing on a board while using a paddle for direction and speed.

But there are no mandated safety guidelines or required certifications for the sport, even when it is practised in open water.

This is unlike its close cousin, kayaking, for which two levels of certification are required before one can enter open water for long trips.

The Straits Times understands that Mr Goh, who passed his Level One windsurfing certification less than two weeks ago, was using a friend's paddle-boarding equipment at the time.

He was also not wearing a life jacket when he disappeared, and was not leashed to the board he was on. That could have compromised his safety, especially in the stormy conditions, said IT consultant Azharudin Ismail, who obtained SUP instructor certification in Australia three years ago.

That Mr Goh was paddling in open water would not have helped. "Once you fall off in a heavy storm, it may be difficult to see the board because of poor visibility and the swells of the sea," said the 40-year-old, who conducts private SUP lessons.

He and other local paddlers have been trying to obtain permission to practise in reservoirs.

But water agency PUB told The Straits Times that SUP activities are not allowed, unlike kayaking and sailing, because the sport "does not come under the purview of any National Sports Associations and does not have any standardised safety protocol".

Former national windsurfer turned paddler Rachel Ng believes reservoirs are safer ground for SUP practice. But "if taught properly and safely with the right equipment such as a floatation device and a leash to the board", the location should not be an issue.

"The bigger problem is that the sport is still in its infancy here and people are not aware of safety practices," she said.

Dr Teo Ho Pin, chairman of the National Water Safety Council, said on Tuesday that the council "urges all Singaporeans to remain vigilant and exercise caution when engaging in water-based activities, especially during the school holidays, as most pools and open water areas are usually crowded during this period".

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