Australia's biggest pearl producer was warned it would have a serious workplace accident or fatality only months before the death of a young pearl diver, a Four Corners investigation reveals.
Jarrad Norton, a former pearl diver with Paspaley Pearls, says that at the end of last year he told the company, "I promise you, I guarantee you, next year you'll have a serious accident or a fatality unless something changes".
His prediction came tragically true at the beginning of this year's pearling season when Melbourne man Jarrod Hampton died in April while diving for Paspaley Pearls off the coast south of Broome.
Mr Hampton, 22, was employed as a drift diver, a job which involves collecting shells from the sea bed while being towed under water from a boat.
In an investigation prompted by Mr Hampton's death, Four Corners raises serious questions about workers' safety in an industry that brings in more than $100 million a year for the family-owned company, Paspaley Pearls.
The program examines the adequacy of rescue equipment, safety procedures and training in the pearling industry which does not follow some standards seen as best practice in most other occupational diving.
The safety warning to Paspaley came last year, after a number of experienced divers quit the company.
The divers have told Four Corners they left Paspaley after their pay was effectively cut by about $20,000 per season.
Several divers wrote to the company warning the low pay rate would make it hard for Paspaley to hold onto its experienced divers.
When the company did not offer any more money, divers began leaving and many were replaced by new divers with no experience in the specialised and dangerous work of drift diving.
The new divers included Mr Hampton, who, though he was a qualified scuba instructor, was new to drift diving.
Of the eight divers on the boat, five were first time drift divers.
Mr Hampton died on his second day on the job.
According to preliminary investigations, his death was consistent with drowning.
"With a mass exodus like that, you can't put that many green divers into the water with a few experienced guys to look after them," former head company diver Mick Case told Four Corners.
'No concerns' A spokesman for the pearling industry, Brett McCallum, says the industry does not plan to make any changes to its operation.
"The authorities have no concerns in regards to how we are operating at the moment," he told Four Corners.
Paspaley Pearls issued a statement to the program, saying safety is its highest priority.
"Paspaley has been a leader in driving safety improvements across the pearl diving industry, which have led to significant declines in serious dive-related incidents over the past four decades," the statement said.
Mr Hampton's family is devastated by his death.
His father, Tony Hampton, says Jarrod was "excited about the whole idea of Paspaley Pearls".
"The website spruiked world standard safety conditions - it was a big company with great equipment," he said.
In the wake of Jarrod's death, the Hampton family says it wants to see safety measures improved on diving boats.
Four Corners' investigation, , airs tonight at 8.30pm on ABC 1.