My instructor pulls my weight belt tight and points me towards the ladder. I grab the metal bars and step backwards, slowly lowering myself into the water. Just before I go under, another team member places what looks like a giant fish bowl over my head.
I step off the ladder and begin to descend to the bottom of the sea. Someone grabs me and I begin flailing around, then quickly remember they’re helping me get to the sea floor in a vertical position.
A few seconds later I’m standing upright three metres below sea level – and I’m still breathing. A few of the others who went down before me are scattered around, grinning and gesturing to each other. After checking I’m OK, the guy who helped me jumps back up towards the platform to help the next person down. It’s just another day in Mauritius.
The mysterious underwater realm has always excited me, and for many years I went on and on to my husband about wanting to swim among colourful darting fish.
Being the good husband that he is, one year for Christmas I received a PADI diving course. The idea was we’d hang out together underwater and I’d finally do my time with the pretty fish.
But then I freaked out. I found the actual experience unnerving and didn’t complete the course. When we honeymooned in the Maldives he ventured out on a dive while I stuck to snorkelling.
Walking under the sea was invented for people just like me. You can stay under for an extended period of time (thanks to oxygenated helmets fuelled by solar-powered pumps), so there’s no stress about having to manage your own air supply – something I did not feel comfortable doing when learning to scuba dive.
The weighted belt keeps you grounded and scuba diving guides are always nearby ensuring you’re OK.
If you do find yourself feeling anxious there are manned surface monitors, so you simply indicate that you’re done and someone will help you get back up.
There are a number of companies that offer undersea walks around the world, but Solar Under Sea Walk – the company I’m sightseeing with today – is the first and only company in the world to harness solar power for the activity. The company was founded in 1989 and went solar 10 years later. Essentially what this means is that the floating platforms and diving units are powered by solar energy.
Mauritius is renowned for the plethora of activities on offer. Sure, it’s an island paradise (according to TripAdvisor it makes the top 10 list in the world) and lounging around not doing much is very alluring. But then you can also walk alongside lions, sample an array of rum, explore historic homesteads, venture off on a hiking jaunt … the list goes on. Walking underwater should absolutely be added to that list.
Before the undersea walk, I met a few members of the team at Grand Bay, and together with about 10 others, was escorted to a boat that whisked us to the floating platform.
Then things got serious. We were educated about the gear, taken through safety procedures and briefed on marine life.
The marine life is, of course, the highlight and why most people book the tour. Snorkelling offers an aerial view of the sea life, but here you can meander with the fish.
I watch a red-striped grouper poking about in a rocky nook, admire the coral (carefully avoiding stepping on any), and shoo away oodles of little grey zippy fish that congregate around me like flies.
Walking around the sandy sea floor is pretty entertaining too. Everything feels heavier and slower, but then some actions – like jumping – come so easily. I muck around with a few twirls and a leap or two, compelling those tiny grey fish nudging my helmet to scurry away.
The 25 minutes underwater pass quickly. Although the marine life could keep me entertained for hours, the Solar Under Sea Walk guys obviously have a few games they like to get through.
We execute synchronised jumps, pose for group photos, and watch as two honeymooners briefly take off their masks for a smooch. The guides then encourage us to do the same (take off the mask that is, not smooch) and most people manage after watching the demonstration.
I don’t even try, recognising that I’m happy to keep my continual stream of fresh air flowing. TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION
Air Mauritius flies direct from Perth to Mauritius two times a week with easy connections from Australian cities with codeshare partner airline Virgin Australia. See www.airmauritius上海龙凤419m. SEE + DO
The pioneer of undersea walks in Mauritius, Solar Under Sea Walk comes with 27 years’ experience. Guided undersea walks are operated six days a week, with booking in busy periods advisable. See www.solarunderseawalk上海龙凤419m. STAYING THERE
Royal Palm Hotel is located on the north-west coast of Mauritius, close to Grand Bay (it’s a short cab ride to the Solar Under Sea Walk starting point). It’s one of the ritziest properties on the island, comprising 69 beach-view suites. See www.royalpalm-hotels上海龙凤419m.
Tatyana Leonov was a guest of The Mauritius Tourism Authority and Air Mauritius.
Squishy: Microlights hold two snugly and are open to the elements. Photo: Ocean Eco Adventures Whale sharks in Ningaloo reef. Photo: Ocean Eco Adventures
Spilt paint pot: The kaleidoscopic colours of the reef. Photo: Ocean Eco Adventures
Bolt upright. That’s the way. No leaning to the left or right. No reaching out to grab anything for support. Just sit up straight and hope all Gav said about it being a sturdy aircraft wasn’t a pack of lies.
Seeing whale sharks on Western Australia’s Ningaloo Reef from above in a spotter plane, then getting on the boat and swimming with them, seemed like a brilliant idea. Failing to register what contraption said flight would take place in? Less brilliant.
Microlights are extraordinary things. They look like three-wheeled go-karts with a hang glider-esque wing on top and a propeller on the back. There’s room for just two people, with the passenger squished in very cosily behind the pilot, and no luggage space. But, more importantly, they’re open to the elements. And at 1000 metres up, you really notice the lack of protective metal or glass around you.
Below, a landscape virtually unsullied by humans unfolds. The North West Cape Peninsula is a gnarled piece of outback Australia that just happens to be next to the Indian Ocean. Gorges cut through the Cape Range National Park, the creek beds brutally dry. Much of it is ancient coral reef, exposed by lowered sea levels and lifted up by tectonic juddering.
Today’s reef, however, runs alongside. From the air, its full majesty can be seen. The Ningaloo runs startlingly close to the shore – it’s as little as 100 metres off in places – and is a blaze of colours. The lagoon it creates is a spilt paint pot of greens and turquoises, all patterned by the prevailing currents.
Then behind the reef are the blues.The deep, rich darker ocean bulk is streaked with patches of brilliant, lighter blue. But the variety makes it harder to spot what we’re after.
From the pilot’s seat, Gav explains the mission. We’re looking for greyish tadpoles. And it’s not long before he spots one opposite Mangrove Bay. This mammoth of the sea, attracted to the Ningaloo to feast on the plankton drawn in by the annual coral spawning, looks weirdly insignificant from above.
There’s not just one of them, though. Nearby is another whale shark. They’re circling each other. Why? No-one’s quite sure – remarkably little is known about whale sharks. Most tagging programs have ended in failure, as the electronic tags can’t withstand the pressures of the depths the megafish go down to.
That they often live in the deepest parts of the ocean makes the reef-skirting visitors to the Ningaloo even more surprising. And it’s time to get down there for a closer look.
Gav’s microlight heads for the Yardie Creek airstrip, wobbling like a drunk walking a plank in the crosswinds. It lands, and the Ocean Eco Adventures bus drops by on its way to the cruise departure point at Tantabiddy.
As the boat stops off for a snorkelling session, Gav takes to the air again. He’s now on serious spotting duty, and before long the radio call comes in. More have been spotted in the deep blue, a few metres away from the reef.
They look rather different – and a few million times more impressive – up close. After leaping into the water we form a line. The drop-off spot has been quite deliberate, being picked so the whale shark will swim past, as if on parade.
There’s confusion as we try to work out what’s happening, and then jaws drop as far as they can with a snorkel stuffed inside them. The scale is one thing – it’s a four-metre juvenile male, and it looks like it has eaten everything else in the ocean. But it’s the clarity that elevates the experience into the level of the truly staggering. There’s no murk, no silt, no impediment – just the biggest fish in the world amid a fierce blue, seemingly computer-generated frame.
It swims past, and we kick the flippers into gear to follow. It’s not just a case of being in the water with the whale shark, it’s having the privilege of swimming side by side with it. The ever-changing swell moving overhead and the sheer size of the shark give the optical illusion of travelling at great speed. We’re swimming at near full pelt, though, and the shark is doing the equivalent of mooching around the bain maries at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Eventually, we let it go off to continue its prodigious lunch. Back on the boat, the skipper has some exciting news. “There are two nearby,” he says. “And they’re circling each other.” Time to see how big those tadpoles are from three metres away, rather than 1000 … TRIP NOTESMORE INFORMATION
Qantas flies to Learmonth Airport, just south of Exmouth, from Perth. Connections from Sydney and Melbourne are plentiful. See www.qantas上海龙凤419m.au. STAYING THERE
The Novotel Ningaloo Resort in Exmouth has king bedrooms for from $242. See www.novotelningaloo上海龙凤419m.auSEE + DO
The Flying Fish package – 45-minute microlight flight followed by whale shark swimming cruise – with Ocean Eco Adventures costs $670. See www.oceanecoadventures上海龙凤419m.au
David Whitley was a guest of Tourism Western Australia.
Police at the scene of a shooting at a Sydney shopping centre. Photo: Channel Nine screen grab A victim is taken away after a shooting at Bankstown Shopping Centre. Photo: Top Notch Video
A victim is loaded into an ambulance after a shooting at Bankstown Central Shopping Centre. Photo: Channel Nine
A woman is wheeled away by paramedics after the shooting at Bankstown Central Shopping Centre. Photo: Channel Nine
An unidentified man is in custody following the fatal shooting at Bankstown Central Shopping Centre. Photo: Top Notch Video
The home of Walid Ahmad in Punchbowl.
Who was Walid Ahmad?
It was just before noon when shoppers going about their Friday at a suburban mall found themselves caught up in Sydney’s latest underworld execution.
Stunned onlookers watched while as many as eight shots were fired in the car park of Bankstown Shopping Centre killing one man and injuring another man and a woman.
The dead man, known Sydney crime figure Walid “Wally” Ahmad, collapsed at the entrance to the shopping centre.
Shopper Sailina Nesendra was walking from the shopping centre to the car park when she heard gunshots and then saw security guards trying to revive him.
“All I see is just blood all over their hands,” she said.
Nurse at the nearby Bankstown Hospital, Fatema Islam, had just parked her car in the shopping centre car park when she heard two gun shots.
Initially she thought the sound was equipment falling inside the nearby sports shop.
“Then one lady just came out screaming and crying, ‘Gunshot, gunshot,”‘ she said.
Fearing for her safety she said she quickly ran inside the shopping centre, glancing behind her as she ran.
“When I looked back nothing was there, not even a car was moving.”
Inside the shopping centre “everyone was scared”, she said.
The gunman fled the car park in a white Mercedes which police later discovered burnt out in Greenacre.
Detectives believe the gunman was not working alone. On Friday night no arrests had been made.
They also believe that this was very much a targeted attack on Mr Ahmad.
A standover man, drug dealer and convicted killer who was also known in Sydney’s underworld circles to talk to police, detectives said they had a number of lines of inquiry.
“This isn’t a random shooting. It was clearly targeted towards the man who died,” Detective Superintendent David Eardley, from the Bankstown Local Area Command said. “And the information is this gunman did not act alone.”
One main line of inquiry is the link between Friday’s shooting and a fatal shooting at a Mr Ahmad’s smash repair shop at nearby Condell Park earlier this month. One man Safwan Charbaji, 32, was shot in the head and chest and died in the confrontation on Ilma Street. Also injured in the gunfire was Abdullah El Masri, 35, who was shot in the face.
It is understood a debt was at the root of the confrontation, which erupted between two groups after about half an hour of arguing on the street.
Police had wanted to speak with Mr Ahmad over that confrontation but he had not yet been formally interviewed.
“We’re certainly not ruling out any links — we’re looking at all opportunists and all avenues of investigation,” Superintendent Eardley said.
Mr Ahmad was jailed in 2005 after fatally shooting Mayez Dany at Greenacre in 2002.
The former bouncer was working the door at Sam Ibrahim’s Oxford St nightclub when he refused entry to Mr Dany’s nephew and broke his jaw in the process.
Ahmad later shot Mr Dany five times at a prearranged meeting at a Greenacre auto wreckers after an earlier truce between the two crumbled. He was sentenced to a minimum of seven years jail for manslaughter and assault-related offences.
The man, 60, and woman, 31, also shot were treated for non-life-threatening gunshot wounds to their lower legs. NSW Ambulance paramedics wheeled them both on stretchers into waiting ambulances. They were taken to Liverpool Hospital where they are in a stable condition. UPDATE: Heavy police presence at Bankstown Centro Shopping Centre where eight shots were reportedly fired. #9Newspic.twitter上海龙凤419m/kofABwyt6b— Nine News Sydney (@9NewsSyd) April 29, 2016*/]]>
Sydney man Joseph Abourizk has already been in jail for nine months. Photo: SuppliedA Sydney father has been sentenced to 14 years jail in Fiji after being found guilty of possessing almost 50 kilograms of cocaine.
Fiji police arrested tow truck driver Joseph Abourizk and a Fijian local last July after finding several parcels of cocaine hidden in two suitcases.
On Thursday, Justice Thushara Rajasinghe sentenced him to a maximum of 14 years in prison.
He will be eligible for parole in 12 years.
Mr Abourizk, 30, continues to maintain his innocence, as does his wife Karla.
After the sentencing, Mrs Abourizk told Fairfax Media: “Every single one of the jury found him not guilty, every single one.”
“How can this be? He should be coming home.”
Abourizk and his wife had been holidaying in Fiji before his arrest.
He said his wife went home early because of work commitments. He was arrested the next day.
Five assessors in the High Court of Fiji at Lautoka unanimously found Abourizk not guilty of unlawful possession of illicit drugs.
Assessors are the equivalent of professional jurors and they give their opinion to a judge. But judges are not bound by their decisions.
Justice Thushara Rajasinghe found Abourizk guilty.
“He’s crushed, we’re all crushed,” his Sydney lawyer Warwick Korn told Fairfax Media from Fiji.
“It’s very difficult to comprehend.”
Abourizk has already been in jail for nine months and missed the recent birth of his first child, a daughter named Penelope.
In an interview with Fairfax Media last week Mrs Abourizk said she was “beyond words” after her husband was found guilty.
“There was no doubt in our minds he was returning home,” Mrs Abourizk told Fairfax Media.
“Now my husband spends the next year awaiting a fair reopening of this matter in a Third World country away from his wife, family and daughter whose birth was robbed of him.”
Andrew George, a former soldier who appeared in Army Reserve ads, claims tafenoquine left him with damaging side effects. Photo: Supplied The beginning of a letter sent to military doctors by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.
Soldiers fear drug program has scarred themSenior ADF officials defend use of mefloquine to Senate hearingDefence documents reveal long-held concerns about drug
Australian military doctors were warned about the dangers of using an experimental antimalarial drug on soldiers while in the midst of a coordinated trial under investigation by the ADF watchdog.
Documents obtained by Fairfax Media reveal the Therapeutic Goods Administration wrote to senior doctors at the Balmoral Naval Hospital in Sydney to warn they had no authority to acquire or use the drug under existing arrangements.
Six months later, the hospital received 13 capsules of tafenoquine from pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to use on a 26-year-old on the condition it would not be held responsible for side-effects.
The company urged the doctors to contact US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command within 24 hours of serious or unexpected reactions by soldiers. It also told doctors to supply detailed records of patient history and health outcomes.
Tafenoquine remains banned in Australia and has been linked to blood cell damage and anaemia. Common side effects include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches and eye disease. It was trialled on 461 ADF personnel as part of a clinical trial in East Timor during 2000-01.
Also trialled was the approved drug mefloquine, or Lariam, which remains the ADF’s third choice antimalarial despite being banned by US Special Forces. The ADF Inspector-General continues to investigate whether any failures of military justice occurred during the trial.
A Department of Defence spokesman said the TGA warning related to the treatment of soldiers with recurrent malaria rather than the clinical trials. But correspondence reveals Australia’s drug regulator did not shy from expressing concern about the drug.
Military doctors were initially granted full access to tafenoquine although this was overruled once the TGA realised the doctors would not comply with relevant safety regulations.
The letter, sent by the TGA’s director of drug safety Dr Leonie Hunt, told doctors they were not authorised to use the drug outside a controlled clinical environment and without the approval of a hospital ethics committee.
“It has been brought to my attention that you do not satisfy these requirements and therefore the authorisation should not have been issued,” Dr Hunt said.
“Accordingly you are no longer authorised to supply or prescribe tafenoquine for use in defence personnel for the treatment of recurrent vivax malaria.”
According to the Department of Defence, the warning was the result of “an administrative error” caused when military doctors applied for the drug under the wrong subsection of the relevant act.
The doctors were eventually granted the drug for “compassionate use” under a special access scheme that judged patient needs on a case-by-case basis. Another 30 ADF personnel were treated under the scheme after a spike in malaria cases during 2001-02.
A TGA spokeswoman said the only way to acquire the dug remained the special access scheme.
“Were the TGA to become aware that unregistered products were being supplied without obtaining appropriate exemption, the matter would be investigated,” she said.
GlaxoSmithKline told the military doctors all patients needed to be provided with information about the drug including alternative options. Written consent forms were also required.
“An integral component and condition of approval for supply of an experimental drug is the documentation of safety and efficacy data,” the letter said.
“It is extremely important that we, as the manufacturers of tafenoquine, obtain detailed information regarding treatment and we ask for your co-operation to document details of patient history and therapeutic outcome.”
Patient outcomes were recorded by military doctors at the Australian Army Malaria Institute and published in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in 2007.
According to the journal article, the authors were full-time ADF employees and received funding from GlaxoSmithKline to present their findings. They insist no other potential conflicts of interest existed.
Andrew George, a former infantry soldier and public relations officer with the Army Reserve, was treated with tafenoquine in Sydney and claims it left him with damaging side effects.
Mr George, who features in promotional material for the reserves, said he was given the drug after being diagnosed with malaria but does not recall giving informed consent after a detailed explanation of the drug.
He is one of many veterans seeking answers about the drugs with many believing it complicated their diagnosis and management of post-traumatic stress-disorder.
“I am still proud of my service,” he said. “I am proud to have done what my dad did – a Vietnam veteran,” Mr George said.
Australian Defence Medical Ethics Committee documents, released late last year under freedom of information laws, showed the ADF was concerned about whether the trials were properly explained to soldiers.
“It would be preferable to have all information conveyed openly and honestly to every member involved in current and previous tafenoquine trials,” the document said. “This will markedly reduce the risk of a perceived cover-up”
Since the release of the document, the Department of Defence has made a catalogue of information about the trials and the drug available for veterans online.
Surgeon General of the ADF, Air Vice-Marshal Tracy Smart, has also met with veterans at a community event in Townsville and insisted the military was being transparent as possible.
Last month, a senate committee called on the Australian Defence Force to explain all potentially damaging side effects of the antimalarial drugs to every veteran or soldier who has taken them since 2001.