An online storm has risen regarding Wetpixel.com owner Adam Hanlon, whom some customers are accusing of withholding cash payments they made for underwater photography trips, accusations he denies.
The accusations surfaced on social media last month and culminated in a lengthy article in Undercurrent Magazine.
Wetpixel.com was founded in the US more than 20 years ago by David Breitigam, rebuilt as a thriving online community by Eric Cheng and sold to Hanlon in 2018.
The Undercurrent article states that Hanlon would organize group dive trips “with a markup for himself, and collecting their money before they traveled.”
The Undercurrent article by John Bantin, a respected journalist in the diving community, presents a damning set of evidence of suspected fraud by Hanlon and how he has taken an estimated $60,000+ in Wetpixel readers’ monies to pay for international underwater photography trips, only for those trips to not have been booked and the funds disappeared.
In an equally lengthy rebuttal to the Undercurrent article provided to DeeperBlue.com, Hanlon said:
“Wetpixel has organized trips for underwater image makers for many years prior to my purchase of it or involvement with it.”
The Undercurrent article talks about a Wetpixel trip in 2022 to Indonesia:
“A first inkling of a problem occurred when divers who had prepaid a hefty sum for a Wetpixel trip to Indonesia on the MY Damai in late 2022 arrived at the dock to board the craft, but while they had paid Hanlon for the trip, Hanlon had neither confirmed nor paid fully for it. The owner, Alberto Reija, an honorable caballero who felt quite sorry for them, ran the trip anyway, hoping to get paid eventually by Hanlon.
“Reija told Undercurrent he never did get paid, despite sending several emails and even offering to accept Hanlon’s payments over several months. Hanlon ignored Reija’s emails. Even though Hanlon’s customers had paid him upfront for crew tips, Reija ended up tipping his own crew.”
In his rebuttal, Hanlon writes:
“The Damai charter was both paid for and confirmed prior to any divers’ arrival. The assertion ‘only to learn that while they had paid Hanlon for the trip, he had neither confirmed nor paid for it’ is factually incorrect.
“Due to several late cancellations by individuals booked on the trip, the charter did not sell through with three spaces (25%) that were not filled.
“Unfortunately, Damai’s owners were unwilling to factor this into the charter fee and insisted on payment for a full charter. Due to this, Wetpixel was unable to pay the full amount (there is a balance of less than 10% of the total fee) nor were the monies earmarked for tips available.
Hanlon also offered to “supply bank statements to support this, if required.”, DeeperBlue.com has requested these bank statements but has not seen them as of yet.
The Undercurrent article also describes a pair of 2020 workshops at the Lembeh Resort in Indonesia featuring renowned underwater photographer Alex Mustard. The COVID-19 pandemic led to the workshops’ postponement to 2022:
“Danny Charlton of Lembeh Resort told Undercurrent that to host the workshops, he needed to get from Hanlon the number attending, the rooms required, and to receive prepayment. Hanlon ignored his innumerable emails, text messages, and WhatsApp calls.”
The article adds, “when the guests showed up for the workshops with Mustard, Lembeh had yet to be paid. At first, they had to put up their own credit cards, but Charlton confirmed he eventually got paid some but not all he was owed.”
Hanlon, in his rebuttal, said:
“Lembeh Resort were paid in full for the workshops. Hence ‘confirmed he eventually got paid some but not all he was owed’ is factually incorrect.
“Taking credit card imprints from guests is a standard procedure at most resorts (for any extras) and I refute the assertion that: ‘As it turned out, when the guests showed up for the workshops with Mustard, Lembeh had yet to be paid. At first, they had to put up their own credit cards.’ This was never the case.”
The Undercurrent article also states Mustard “wasn’t paid for this and several trips he ran on behalf of Wetpixel.”
“Wetpixel does still owe Alex Mustard for his workshop fee, but this is the only monies owed to Alex by Wetpixel. Hence, the assertion that he ‘wasn’t paid for this and several trips he ran on behalf of Wetpixel’ is incorrect.”
The article has quotes from several people who say they’re still owed refunds from Hanlon, or who found out that trips they had paid him for had not actually been booked.
One of them, Caroline Wells, is quoted in the article as saying:
“I continued to chase for my money [equivalent to $5000] until Adam asked for patience as he had suffered a heart attack. I left it for three months before sending further emails, but although Adam had had a heart attack and wouldn’t be able to dive and was unable to respond to emails, he published several more trips.”
To which Hanlon refutes:
“Ms. Wells was originally booked on the Lembeh workshop. She chose not to attend and Wetpixel was able to sell her space and hence refund her. She asserts that ‘although Adam had had a heart attack and wouldn’t be able to dive and was unable to respond to emails, he published several more trips’ is mistaken. No new trips were or have been advertised, planned, published, or organised by Wetpixel subsequent to 21 July 2022.”
The article also covers Hanlon’s health. He apparently had a heart attack and, due to his “ill health” refused a face-to-face interview with the article’s author, John Bantin, and “would only reply to our questions via email. (Of course, he was off teaching in the quarry the next day.)”
DeeperBlue.com has seen a discharge summary document recording that the 56-year-old was admitted to the hospital with a heart attack, on 21 July, 2022.
In his rebuttal, Hanlon said:
“I am experiencing ongoing health issues associated with my heart attack, although I am pleased to report that I am seeing improvements of late.
“The Red Sea trips failed due to my ill health. Wetpixel is working with the individuals concerned to facilitate a satisfactory outcome.”
Hanlon told DeeperBlue.com:
“Despite the social media furore, I am working to ensure that those that are owed monies are being repaid.”
DeeperBlue.com has followed up with further questions with Hanlon, asking for more details of who is still owed and what the plan to repay them is.
Additional Reporting by John Liang