Keeping the Waters Safe: Clearance Divers

I was descending, it was pitch black, I made bottom. I was looking at my sonar navigator scanning and then I just saw it, clear as day. It looked exactly like what I would imagine a sea mine looked like. I swam on top of it and my GPS navigator was telling me that I was right on top of it, but I couldn’t see anything. So, I turned on my light and there it was, just a huge old sea mine that was waiting there a hundred years for me.

My name is Leading Seaman Dustin Perry. I’m a member of Fleet Diving Unit Pacific and I’m employed there as a clearance diver.

Clearance diver does a number of things, but the majority of what we do is explosive ordnance disposal.

So, we have an annual exercise, or operation rather, called Operation OPEN SPIRIT and that’s a combined effort with a couple different nations removing the explosive relics of war that are left behind in the Baltic Sea from the Germans and the Russians during World War I or World War II, which are mostly sea mines.

I was on Operation OPEN SPIRIT about two years ago and we were working with the Estonians, the British, the Norwegians and the Latvians and there was a Norwegian mine hunter about 28 kilometres offshore.

And they had used their unmanned underwater vehicles to find some sea mines.
And we got a contact, is what we call it, that was about 28 kilometres offshore and we went out there one day. I was lucky enough to dive on it. It turned out to be a hundred-year-old Russian moored mine.

We can only take compressed air up to about 45 metres. We dive mixed gas when we’re doing mine countermeasures operations, which is what we’re doing in Latvia, and I was diving 40/60 at that time, which is one of the deeper mixtures that we use.

So, during this time, we were just doing something that we call “blow-in-place”.
So, I found it, I took a quick video of it, I marked it and I came to the surface and then, it was disposed of explosively. Just by bringing a charge down, place it next to the mine and pulling it up to the surface, backing off. We have a number of ways that we can initiate it from the surface. This time, we were using what we call “remote means”. We just kind of hung out the boat and made it go away.

What guided me towards a job like this is I knew that there’s a specialized team of highly motivated people. And I knew that once I entered that team, I would get some really good mentorship and some really good life skills, get to travel the world.

What really brought me to clearance diving was the explosive ordnance disposal part.

So, we have what we call a domestic EOD mandate. So, during the Second World War, Canada was conducting a lot of training in rural areas to get the troops ready to go overseas. So, there’s a lot of old sites that were used as ranges for motors, artillery rounds, things like that. And we work partnered with a civilian company that is clearing that land in order to make it safer so it can be handed over properly.

The satisfaction that it gives me doing explosive ordnance disposal within Canada is that it makes Canada a safer place for everybody to enjoy and it is very satisfying to do that on the world stage as well, to go out with other countries and bring them our equipment and our capabilities to help them clean up their areas as well.

I guess, in a roundabout way, I’m a military environmentalist.

But if there is any explosive hazard that is identified underwater, we’re the ones that are going to take care of it.

Source: National Defence