ORP’s Pakistan Team Gets PADI Certified

Usman Iqbal - PADI Certified Open Water Diver ©Indus Scuba
Usman Iqbal – PADI Certified Open Water Diver ©Indus Scuba

Although Asif Baloch, ORP Field Coordinator in Pakistan, has provided surface support for many scuba diving excursions to remove ghost gear, he had never actually scuba dived before. When ORP Project Coordinator, Usman Iqbal, decided to become a PADI certified diver, he approached his dive school, Indus Scuba, and asked if they would let Asif sit in on his sessions. To Usman’s surprise – and delight – Mustafa of Indus Scuba was kind enough to both train and certify Asif and his younger brother, Alam, an ORP Pakistan Volunteer, totally free of charge! Here is Usman’s story.

PADI Training In Urdu

Alam, Usman and Asif in the classroom at Indus Scuba
Alam, Usman and Asif in the classroom at Indus Scuba

Both Asif and Alam were very excited about the prospect of diving. However, we first had to inquire with PADI if Asif and Alam’s training could be done in Urdu, and if their exams could be oral rather than written. Mustafa got a swift response of approval from PADI.

The training sessions were conducted at Indus Scuba Dive Center in Karachi. Asif and Alam made the 2-hour journey from their village to the dive center for 6 days to learn all about scuba diving basics. They had both handled scuba equipment before for scuba operators, but did not know any details. During the certification course they learnt both how to check the scuba cylinders safety valves and pressure, and about the regulators and BCDs and how they operate.

Indus Scuba instructor Mustafa and I translated all the PADI training videos and knowledge reviews to Urdu for Asif and Alam. However, Asif and Alam seemed to know and understand most of the concepts already, from a life spent on the seas.

Breathing Under Water

The oxygen tanks are lined up and ready to the ORP Pakistan team's first dive
The oxygen tanks are lined up and ready to the ORP Pakistan team’s first dive

We first experienced breathing under water during the pool sessions at Indus Scuba Dive Center. This was a great experience! Asif and Alam are both excellent swimmers and free divers but neither of them had ever taken a breath underwater before. This experience opened up new possibilities for them in the future.

Asif seems to be a natural born diver; he achieved neutral buoyancy within 5 seconds of it being explained the concept. It took Alam and me another pool session to achieve neutral buoyancy.

The PADI exam was also translated into Urdu and Asif and Alam took their exams orally. They both scored 95% on their first try! I, on the other hand, had to give the exam twice and only managed 86%. Poor compared to their performance!

Diving In Open Waters

A dive boat being loaded for the first open water dive by ORP Pakistan's team
The dive boat being loaded for the first open water dive

When the day came for our first open water dive, all three of us were very excited. We checked our equipment on the boat and ventured out to the diving spot, which had been suggested by Asif. The winds were 10 knots that day, and the current was too strong for beginner divers. However, Asif and Alam may be beginner scuba divers, but they are veterans on the sea.

Asif geared up for his first ever dive
Asif geared up for his first ever dive

The dive instructor did not allow other yet-to-be certified divers into the water, but he was confident of our abilities in the water and allowed us to dive. The other people on the boat joked that Asif should keep an eye on the dive instructor since the current was so strong!

We descended to a depth of 9 meters and did our skills without any problem that day. Then we explored the area. We completed all our skills on our first two dives without any problem.

A week later we went out with Mustafa for our 3rd and 4th dives to 18 meters depth. Again Asif suggested a spot for the dive. The current was a little strong, so we geared up in the water. The visibility on this day was very poor so we ended our dive quickly and moved to a new location to complete our skills for dive 3 and 4. We managed this without any trouble, and by the end of the day we had completed our PADI Open Water Certifications!

Ghost Gear Removal By Diving

Ghost gear recovered by the ORP Pakistan Team at 16m depth approximately 2km from the cost of Abdul Rehman Goth
Ghost gear recovered by the ORP Pakistan Team at 16m depth approximately 2km from the cost of Abdul Rehman Goth

Removing ghost gear from the ocean whilst diving can be very risky and require a high level of technical diving skills. Mustafa has not cleared Alam and me to handle debris underwater, but Asif has been cleared. We partner up with local dive masters to recover ghost nets. With Asif’s knowledge of the ocean, his relations with local fishers and his navigation skills, we have been able to track down a few ghost nets which have been stuck on the rocks below the surface. We have had great help from Nadia, a marine biologist, Amer Khan, a marine archeologist, and Alfred, an underwater videographer. We have several more dive masters who are willing to lend us a hand in recovering more ghost gear from the ocean going forward. The problem for many divers who want to remove ghost gear is locating them underwater. With Asif now guiding them, that problem looks to be solved!

Asif & Alam Baloch – Brothers On A Mission

Alam and Asif Baloch after passing the PADI Open Water Certification exam.
Alam and Asif Baloch after passing the PADI exam with flying colours

Asif Baloch has been the driving force behind Olive Ridley Project – Pakistan for several years. He does everything from recovering ghost nets from the beach environment to making repurposed ghost gear products such as ghost net bracelets and dog leashes. Asif used to be a fisher and has also spent 14 years as a lifeguard. His knowledge of the local seas in the area around Abdul Rehman Goth is unparalleled.

Alam Baloch is Asif’s younger brother. He has been volunteering with ORP Pakistan for just over a year, helping us remove and clean ghost gear. Alam is a lifeguard and is studying English.

Thank You

We are incredibly thankful to Indus Scuba and Mustafa for certifying Asif and Alam free of charge – and in Urdu. Your support means a lot to us!