Emerson Nobou, an officer from the Marine Law Office, briefed the media and friends of award-winning Chinese professional free diver Chen Chao, who went missing during a diving trip on November 19, about the extent of the search operation conducted. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)

A massive search and rescue operation has been conducted by the marine law office together with private and state government entities to look for the award-winning Chinese professional, free diver that went missing in Oispukel Reef near Ngaremlengui at around 3pm on November 19.

Chen Chao, 34, an award-winning professional free diver, was reported missing after going on a free diving trip with 10 other friends. He is a frequent visitor of Palau and was supposed to be on a five-day stay in the country until the incident happened.

As of press time, authorities still did not find the missing free diver except for that equipment such as speargun and weight belt believed to be owned by Chen Chao that was found on Wednesday, November 21, at the area where he was reported missing.

Questions about why the boat trip was pushed through despite the small craft advisory issued by the National Emergency Management Office (NEMO) on the same day was raised during the media briefing conducted by the Marine Law Office yesterday, November 22. The briefing was also attended by Chen Chao’s friends.

Marine Law Officer Manzel Matt Ngirmeriil said that the search operation has covered an area 20 miles from the shore and another 60 miles from north to south or about 1,200 square miles. The operation was conducted based on the search panel patterns determined using a special software.

Authorities said that since the day the free diver went missing until Wednesday, the wind was blowing from Northwest while the current was moving up towards Kayangel.

Boats, divers, and personnel from different entities such as the Ngaremlengui Rangers Office, Land Mark Marina, Palau Hotel, Koror State Rangers, Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection, Seabee’s Underwater Construction Team 2, and Sam’s Tours had also provided assistance in the search operation.

According to the authorities, based on Palau’s policy, the government will terminate its search operations on the fifth day if the missing person is not yet found but private companies or individuals can continue with their search.

Lie Xueqin, Chen Chao’s friend, said that the missing person’s family was already notified about the incident. The group, except their leader who remains in Palau for further search cooperation, left Palau last night to travel back to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

“We will have the report of the accident in detail and what the government in Palau [is doing]. This is what we need to do before going back to China,” Lie Xueqin said. The group also asked whether it is allowed to bring in some equipment from China to Palau to do the search as many Chinese back home have expressed willingness to help in the search operation.

News about Chen Chao’s fate has been shared via social media as the group feels desperate in asking for help in the search operation.

Earnest Ongidobel, Chief of Staff for the Vice President’s Office, said that they had consulted the Minister of State on how to inform the Chinese government on the incident especially that Palau has no diplomatic relationship with the People’s Republic of China.

Ongidobel said that once a written report in the incident will be produced, they will notify the PRC’s Embassy in Pohnpei via e-mail.