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TTaake aa deep
HE WATERS of a Scottish loch
Underwater engineering now has the official title of in-water
can be black enough already. The
maintenance and repair, and is a somewhat matter-of-fact term for
grey light of a November day in
the constricted limits within which the divers work.
“Clearance divers have always done this sort of stuff. But there’s
the north doesn’t filter far beneath the an increased emphasis on it now.”
“Support to Clyde Naval Base is our main business,” stressed Lt
The divers are clad in their specialist outfits designed
Cdr White.
for plunging into the even-more comprehensive
“But we don’t just sit here waiting for a submarine to need
darkness of submarine casings.
Slimmed down from the customary bulky diving rig,
“We are integral to the base for this engineering, for this security
the kit allows the men to undo the access plate on
– searching berths, checking jetties. The burden of security here is
the casing and crawl through the narrow hatch into
monstrous – the deterrent is here.”
the constricted space within to carry out essential
“We have the normal routine military tasks to achieve, alongside
engineering work.
bomb disposal.
Lights and cameras are mounted on each side of
“We are a bomb disposal team. We are a search and rescue team.
the headset, a long pipe draws air from the dive-boat
But we are Navy divers. We are here in Faslane to do a job for the
on the surface of the water, and each man carries a
tongue-in-cheek ‘handbag’ – an emergency oxygen
Usually the words diver and bomb disposal appear together
supply that is never beyond their reach (you swim out
significantly earlier in Navy News articles, but not in this case.
“hugging it for dear life”, I am told).
And it’s not to imply that bomb disposal and all the skills, training
The enclosed space diving system (ESDS) isn’t
and knowledge inherent in the whole of the Fleet Diving Squadron
unique to these men of the Northern Diving Group
are any less among these northern divers – but it’s just one aspect
– all their compatriots in the Fleet Diving Squadron
of a fleet of tasks that make their demands on the men of the
are trained in the use of this equipment, but here in
Northern Diving Group.
Scotland it is integral to the daily lives of the men on
The repair and maintenance work carried out by divers underwater
this team.
is a burden across the UK, but the bulk of the submarines are based
“We are the lead team in the Fleet Diving Squadron for
in Scotland, and the bulk of a submarine is very expensive to hoist
underwater engineering and battle damage assessment
out into the dry for specialist engineers to carry out tasks.
repair,” said Lt Cdr Jason White, commanding officer
The Fleet Diving Squadron is made up of a total of 157 Clearance
● Inside the decompression chambers, which are manned by the divers of
the Northern Diving Group, of the Nato Submarine Rescue System (NSRS)
of the Northern Diving Group (NDG).
Divers divided into three Diving Groups, based in the various Naval
“We use it for 90 per cent of its use. We use it all the
● (Below) Through Nemo’s eye into the rescue submersible itself
time because of the work we do here.
The Southern Diving Group is split between Portsmouth and
● (Bottom) Nemo visible in the distance surrounded by the various elements
of the rescue system
“There are simply areas you could not get into in a
Plymouth, where their focus is the surface fleet and tends towards
submarine unless you had that diving kit.”
the legacy of explosive disposal tasks that litter the Channel.
The Fleet Diving Group works towards a number of specialisations
– shallow water, deep water, force protection, and of course,
explosive ordnance disposal.
The other specific tasking that sits solely upon the shoulders of
the Northern Diving Group is the Nato Submarine Rescue System,
the replacement for the rescue submersible LR5 that came to
prominence during the loss of the Russian submarine Kursk.
The NSRS, a bulky set-up of unmanned vehicle, submersible,
chambers, lifting cranes and containers, that fills an entire building
Nameless Nemo
IT’S most definitely not called Nemo. But if it was, it would only
be the small manned rescue submarine (reminiscent of James
Cameron’s Abyss), and not the massive facility that is the Nato
Submarine Rescue System (NSRS) in all its glory.
Jointly owned by France, Norway and the UK, the entire
Rolls-Royce system is designed to be slung into the back of
(multiple) C17, Antonov or other bulk-lift aircraft, flown out and
bolted on to a commercial-hire mothership, and the rescue
submarine (Nemo) in the water within 72 hours.
But before Nemo touches the water, the unmanned remote
vessel has already been down to take a look over the site,
deal with any immediate emergencies, the massive crane and
decompression chambers have been bolted onto the support
ship, and the right people in the right place.
But why is the unit based with the Navy in Faslane? “Britain
is internationally known, we have a peerless reputation,” stated
Cdr Jonty Powis (Retd), the NSRS rescue manager.
“Collision is the most common cause of submarine loss,
whether seabed or surface ships.”
Certain submarine losses have been high profile – the
Russian submarine Kursk and the Priz-class AS-28, itself a
rescue submarine that needed rescuing. But these are not
one-off incidents, submarine losses since World War 2 number
over 30.
“We have a core team of 13, we need 56 people embed-
ded on the ship, and two watches of decompression chamber
operators, medical staff and command staff.”
He added: “This is a world-beating system. Similar systems
have been exported to Singapore, China, and more. Five sys-
tems in the world are UK built.
“The ability we demonstrated to go to the Kursk made
everybody sit up and take note. And the Priz rescue finally
capped it.
“The Brits quietly loaded the system into the airplane, got
there and did the job.”
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