An Examination of the 2001 Wave Dancer Disaster through the Lens of Safety Culture

  • An Examination of the 2001 Wave Dancer Disaster through the Lens of Safety Culture

Presentation by Daniel Mendez, M.Sc. at the 2nd Belize National Research Conference, 2019




In 2001 the Wave Dancer, a live-aboard dive boat docked at the port of Big Creek in Belize, capsized during Hurricane Iris killing twenty persons. This disaster, considered to be the worst diving accident in history, was investigated by the International Merchant Marine Registry of Belize to determine the determine the circumstances of this casualty in order to avoid similar incidents in the future. The aim of this study is to fill a gap in the safety literature in Belize through the application of safety culture, risk perception and risk communication theory in one coherent case study approach to understand why this type of accident occurs. The main research questions are: How did the corporate culture of Peter Hughes Diving Inc. affect the actions and decisions of the Wave Dancer’s captain? How did the risk perceptions of Hurricane Iris among guests and staff affect their decision-making? Why were the risk communications issued by the governments of Belize and the United States unable to prevent the capsizing of the Wave Dancer? The research questions were answered through an exploratory, qualitative case study leveraging grounded theory, thematic analysis and content analysis of the available data. The results indicated that poor safety culture was not the major causal factor of the accident, rather decision-making was directly affected by a performance-oriented corporate culture, inadequate company policies, weak corporate leadership and a poor understanding of storm phenomena. The research also discovered that although cognitive biases affected the guests’ decision to remain on-board the vessel during the storm, they did not have similar effects on the crew. Results further indicated that risk communications on Hurricane Iris did not effectively influence decisions as they were not consistently accessed and utilized.




Key words: Hurrican Iris, natural disaster, safety policy, marine laws

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