Clearance divers put to the test

Department of Defence

The robot’s video feed showed an innocuous-looking cardboard box, but from intelligence gathered, Chief Petty Officer Thomas Buchanan knew it was time to put on a bomb suit.

Earlier that day, the Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Task Group headquarters tasked clearance diving elements to clear a wharf in preparation for ships coming alongside.

But with disgruntled locals and an insurgency capable of making improvised explosive devices (IED), suspicions were high.

After discovering a dubious package on the wharf, a robot was sent for a closer look, but found no tell-tale signs, such as wires.

“There were enough cues to suspect [from intelligence] it was an IED, so we dress up appropriately in the bomb suit, take an x-ray and come up with a plan to render it safe,” Chief Petty Officer Buchanan said.

After x-ray confirmed the IED, a robot was sent in again, this time to disrupt the device so it couldn’t function, and the search continued.

It was just one scenario sailors of Australian Clearance Diving Teams One and Four took part in during Exercise Dugong, at Eden, NSW.

‘The conditions out here, where you are very exposed to the environment, is invaluable training for some of the newer guys …’

They were joined by clearance divers from New Zealand’s HMNZS Matataua and the US Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 5 to conduct mine clearance and improvised explosive device disposal operations ashore.

The divers worked from a makeshift headquarters at Eden Discovery Parks and launched missions from the beach directly into the area of operations.

The exercise started with divers clearing waters surrounding Eden by confirming potential mines identified by underwater autonomous and remotely operated vehicles.

“It was a good hit out combining higher command down to our boots on the ground. It was a good representation of how a clearance diving task group operates,” Chief Petty Officer Buchanan said.

Dive teams are split into expeditionary reconnaissance, who find mines, and explosive ordnance disposal to destroy or disable devices.

To provide a realistic edge, training mines gave real-time sensor feedback, so divers could tell whether they had successfully neutralised or detonated the device.

Petty Officer Matthew Brooke said it was good to be challenged by the equipment and the environment.

“The conditions out here, where you are very exposed to the environment, is invaluable training for some of the newer guys who only had experience in enclosed waters,” he said.

“You don’t really get that training anywhere else, otherwise it’s just diving on a concrete training aid. It really gives you confidence in your ability moving forward.”

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