Biz Wave: A Significant Casualty

Significant Casualty Diving
Photo courtesy of Peter J Pilkington.

Peter J. Pilkington, author of “A Significant Casualty“, takes us through the background and significance of his book. He began writing after his son, a former commercial diver, died in an offshore incident.

How long after your son’s passing did you begin your book, “A¬†Significant Casualty”? Did your ideas for the book change as you were¬†writing it?

Days after the funeral in 1996, I began the writing of Brian’s story with only the intent of providing the truth to my son’s grandfather, my father. Colonel Fred Pilkington had lost his hearing during the latter days of World War II, and for him, it was what he was able to read that made up his view of the world. In 1996, he was reading accounts written by others that indicated his oldest grandson was dead due to his grandson’s inexperience, panic and his grandson’s incompetence.

As my writing continued, there were too many inconsistencies.

Too many questions left unanswered.

There was more to the story than those of authority were willing to share. As a result the story turned to an attempt to make a difference. A difference that could only be made by the truth. While also telling the story of a young man who, like all others, that should never be remembered as just another statistic.

What was your goal(s) for writing and publishing “A Significant¬†Casualty”?

The first was to tell the story of a young man who went off to work one morning never to return, while telling the stories of the men that would like us to never know the truth. Followed by using that truth to make a difference.

I ended my son‚Äôs eulogy with, “Brian was a man that never saw the¬†worst in men, only the best. He would want us to forgive those men responsible for his death, but look to us to see it never happens to¬†another.‚ÄĚ

That was almost 20 years ago. Fort the next six years after that eulogy, I fought for the truth and to use that truth to make a difference. In 2001, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) agreed to recommend 21 significant changes to the commercial diving regulations. All those regulatory changes came from the report entitled the investigation of the incident aboard the Cliffs 12, and were endorsed by the then Commandant of the USCG.

None were ever followed or passed along for inclusion.

Eight years later, the USCG reopened the Proposed Rule Making into the need to reform the commercial diving regulations. In the congressional record, the USCG suggested that all those wishing to contribute to the proposed rule-making refer to the Cliffs 12 incident report. That report is 3,200 pages long and can only be viewed by purchasing a copy for $1.00 a page. My response was to continue on with the telling of Brian’s story, including a word-for-word recount of that hearing held years before using the court recorded documentation.

My goal? Make a difference.

About how many diving businesses did you contact during your writing? Were many of them open to your questions?

Only one. I was asked to leave with the suggestion never to return.

From the year of your son’s passing up to the current day, have you¬†noticed significant change in commercial diver fatality rates? Have¬†other¬†organizations besides the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recorded¬†this data ?


To date the regulations remain unchanged. Perhaps the only change is in the statistical compiling of information.

In 1996, the USCG¬†reported that Brian‚Äôs death was the first ‚Äúcommercial diving death‚ÄĚ reported¬†in nine years. Perhaps that may be because there was no category listed¬†for ‚ÄúCommercial Diving.‚ÄĚ Perhaps by oversight or perhaps by design?

Diving Accident Ship
Photo courtesy of Peter J Pilkington.

What were some of your responsibilities as director of the Divers Association? What types of interactions and decisions have you been involved with concerning diving safety?

Back in the final days of writing ‚ÄúA Significant Casualty‚ÄĚ I was searching out a photo of a crew boat heading to an offshore facility. I found one published on a divers‚Äô site, taken by John Carl Roat. I contacted John and asked for permission to use the photo which he granted despite having no idea who I was or the purpose. Several days later, John posted his displeasure on that same site regarding the USCG closing the comment period on the Proposed Rulemaking. Again I contacted John and asked if it would help if I were to have the process reopened.

After that conversation, I wrote my Congressman:

April 21, 2010
Congressman McDermott:

There is a proposed rulemaking currently underway in Washington DC. regarding revisions to the 46 CFR Part 197. The proposed changes to the CFR were noted in the January 6,2009 Federal register, Volume 74, Number 3, FR Doc E8-31415, Department of Homeland Security, Coast Guard.

CFR Citation:46 CFR Part 197
RIN ID: 1625-AA21
USC: [uscg-1998-3786]
Notice: Proposed Rules
DOCID: fr06jan09-10
DOCUMENT ACTION: Advanced notice of proposed rulemaking

The Congressman in turn contacted the USCG and had the Proposed Rulemaking reopened and promised that there would be a public forum to review. A copy of his request was published on the USCG site. When the process was reopened, John Carl Roat contacted me now realizing who I was and my motivation. And thus the formation of the Divers’ Association.

That was five years ago. I am not a diver. Truly have always been an outsider in this process. Now after 20 years of battling windmills, mostly alone, I feel my time spent has accomplished all that I can do and trust those currently involved will have a greater voice and impact than that of an old non-diver.

My focus while working with the Divers Association was primarily aimed at the USCG Proposed Rulemaking. A set of regulations originally crafted by an industry to protect the industry, not the men or women at the end of the hose. Now as that process of USCG revision nears conclusion, industry has once again intervened with a request to move diving operations from USCG jurisdiction to OSHA.

In your opinion, how can divers affect long-lasting change in safety to their industry? Where does it begin and end?

Learn to say “no” without the fear of retaliation.

Some years ago, I was stopped by a young man outside a USCG conference and asked to sign a copy of my book.

He went on to explain that years before he had quit his job as a diver because he thought the conditions were unsafe. The following day, my son was hired to replace him. There are no words that I can now share that can ever express my emotions at that moment in time.

What’s your advice for divers who are put in a situation they’re¬†uncomfortable with (concerning their well-being)?

Correct the situation, make it safe; you are not invincible. Learn to say no. It is not only the well-being of the individual that should be considered, but the safety of those that might be called to assist.

Besides safety regulations, what are some of the changes that you think could improve commercial diving operations for the better?

Regulations are only a first step.

Of paramount importance Рthere must be enforcement. Enforcement by qualified inspectors before an incident.

On that final day of work for Brian, there were four USCG inspectors on station. There was a two-page list of corrections issued. There was no safety plan. There was no emergency evacuation plan. There was no operations manual. There was no designated person in charge, no backup functioning equipment. No backup umbilical, standby tanks were all empty, no backup diver at the ready.

Yet the dive operations were allowed to continue. They were 12 miles offshore.

Write all the regulation you want: They are of no value without proper¬†enforcement. Employ competent, trained inspectors. Weed out the¬†non-compliant contractors, protect the diver that learns the word, “no”¬†and is¬†protected for his or her candor.


Peter J. Pilkington wrote¬†“A Significant Casualty” to make a difference in the enforcement of safety and lives of divers around the world. He is a former co-director of The Divers Association.