Singapore student who died in Maldives finally home
Father of S'pore student faced many hurdles to bring her back
He did not even know that his daughter and ex-wife were holidaying in Maldives.
But after reports surfaced online that a 42-year-old Chinese woman and a 16-year-old Malaysian teen were killed while on a diving boat in the Maldives on Dec 17, Mr Stephen Yap, 43, started to feel uneasy.
The ages and nationalities matched his daughter, Vivian, and his ex-wife, Taiwanese Nicole Tsai, who were Singapore permanent residents.
For close to two weeks, even while he grieved, Mr Yap faced many hurdles, including financial difficulties, before he was finally able to bring Vivian's body back to Singapore on Wednesday morning.
The Malaysian technician, who is a Singapore PR living in Johor Baru and working here, told The New Paper at the funeral parlour on Wednesday night that he is still shocked by the tragedy.
It took him three days just to confirm that his ex-wife and daughter were the victims, he said softly.
He frantically contacted Madam Tsai's relatives in Taiwan and the foreign ministries of Malaysia, Singapore and the Maldives, before the Maldives police finally called him on Dec 20.
He said: "It was my younger daughter who first saw an online article (about the accident), which mentioned no names.
"The ages and nationalities were too much of a coincidence, but I couldn't be sure until the Maldives police finally called me."
He had encouraged the sisters, who lived apart, to keep in touch.
Mr Yap eventually arrived in the Maldives on Dec 23, the same day that Madam Tsai's Taiwanese relatives flew to the island.
Mr Yap said: "All my life, I've heard about the beautiful beaches of the Maldives. Even from the plane, I could see how beautiful the place was. But then I remembered why I was there and my heart just sank."
The date he arrived in the Maldives also had a special significance - Vivian would have turned 16 on that day.
But the distraught father faced another setback - the mortuary was closed that day.
He said: "I could only buy a small cupcake and light a candle for her in my hotel room."
Mr Yap, Madam Tsai's family, and representatives from the Taiwanese and Malaysian embassy, managed to see the bodies on Dec 24.
He said he broke down when he finally saw them.
"Nicole's injuries were very severe, but Vivian looked like she was just sleeping," recalled Mr Yap.
Before he left for the Maldives, Mr Yap called every insurance company in Singapore.
He said: "I also checked with relatives in Taiwan and Nicole's former employers.
"Thankfully I found out that Nicole had bought travel insurance for our daughter. I'm still trying to find out if Nicole had any insurance policies on herself."
The insurers arranged for the bodies to be sent to Sri Lanka for embalming and cremation as there are no such services in the Maldives, which is a Muslim country.
But Mr Yap was unable to accompany the bodies as he could not get a flight to Sri Lanka, so he flew to Singapore on Monday after making the necessary arrangements.
Madam Tsai's body was cremated in Sri Lanka and sent to Taiwan.
Vivian had been under the custody of her mother since she was six, while Mr Yap has custody of their younger daughter, now 14, who studies at River Valley High and stays in a hostel.
Mr Yap kept regular contact with Vivian when she was younger. But he said the talented flautist drifted apart as she got busy with her musical pursuits and schoolwork at Fairfield Methodist Secondary School.
Vivian recently completed her Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) Grade 8 examination and was preparing for her diploma in music in France. She had performed at the Singapore Flute Festival every year since 2011.
Mr Yap said: "I thought she would always be by my side and when she grows older, she will understand about the divorce and why I couldn't bring her up."
Mr Yap approached Mr Roland Tay, founder of Direct Funeral Services, before he flew to the Maldives.
Mr Tay will be providing his services free of charge after hearing about Mr Yap's financial situation.
He said: "I just told him not to worry about the cost and concentrate on the situation in the Maldives.
"I felt sad for Vivian, who only managed to return home after such a long time, and I felt sorry for her father, who had to go through so much to get her back.
"He also requested for his ex-wife's picture to be placed next to Vivian's picture at the wake, which I found very touching."
Mr Yap said: "When I was in the Maldives, I managed to speak to a man who was on the diving boat with Nicole and Vivian. He told me that he could tell that mother and daughter were very close.
"It makes me feel just a little better to know that Vivian and her mother are now together, in heaven."
"All my life, I've heard about the beautiful beaches of Maldives... But then I remembered why I was there and my heart just sank."
- Stephen Yap, on going to Maldives to bring his daughter back
"When I was in Maldives, I managed to speak to a man who was on the diving boat with Nicole and Vivian. He told me that he could tell that mother and daughter were very close. It makes me feel just a little better to know that Vivian and her mother are now together, in heaven."
- Mr Stephen Yap