The Naval Service Diving Section (NSDS) has been in existence since the late 1960s. From humble beginnings as an internal diving team for the ships in the fleet, it has evolved into the primary State diving team, carrying out many varied tasks for a number of State Agencies.
Two Members of the Section, while members of the ship’s company of LÉ Aisling, were awarded Distinguished Service Medals for their part in the search and recovery operation following the Air India Disaster, while the section has received awards from various State bodies for the service it has provided.
As well as providing an air diving capability down to fifty metres, the NSDS have underwater search equipment at their disposal, including a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV), Side Scan Sonar and Magnetometer.
These allow the Section to search and survey to a much greater depth than divers can operate. Indeed the ROV is rated to over 1000 metres depth. In deep water where diving is severely restricted or unattainable the search equipment allows the Naval Service to perform search and recover operations.
The following are the main roles of the NSDS:
- Search and Recovery
- Underwater Survey
- Explosive Ordnance Disposal
- Underwater Engineering
- Military Diving Training
- Search and Recovery
This is the primary external role of the Section. As well as diving in support of Naval Operations, the NSDS is frequently asked to dive in Aid to the Civil Power and Authority. Divers are involved in an average of 15 searches for missing persons during each year. These tragic situations can last up to 2 weeks at a time and although there are never any guarantees, the Section has a high success rate when dealing with these operations.
In the ongoing battle against drug importation, the NSDS have carried out underwater searches on many vessels arriving in Irish Ports.
Search and Recovery operations include the following:
- In search of missing persons
- Objects on seabed
- Recovery of evidence for an Gardaí
- Underwater searches of suspect vessels for the Customs Service
- Search and recovery of vehicles in water for Fire Services
- In search of missing vessels, persons, investigation of sunken vessels for the Department of Marine
The NSDS have the ability to search and survey objects in the water and on the seabed. A variety of underwater cameras and recording equipment are at the disposal of the Section to achieve this. The ROV, Side Scan and Magnetometer can be used together with divers to give a detailed picture of what is on the seabed.
- Underwater maintenance of Naval Fleet
- Survey of historic wrecks or areas of interest on behalf of State Department of Marine
Explosive Ordnance Disposal
The NSDS are trained in disposal of ordnance at sea. The Section assists the Army Ordnance Section in achieving this. WWII mines, depth charges, pyrotechnics and underwater weapons are still recovered from the sea on an annual basis. They can be recovered in fishing gear, or smaller items can be washed ashore.
The appearance of these items can be very different to what the public are used to seeing on WWII films, but are extremely dangerous if handled incorrectly. They need to be disposed of, as they still present a danger to the public. Naval divers are trained in identification and disposal of these objects.
Members of the public are best advised to report any suspicious looking objects along the coast to the relevant authorities.
The Section has equipment to facilitate underwater engineering tasks, such as cutting, burning, welding, bolting and cleaning. Divers are trained to international standards in the safety and application of this equipment.
The Section has many enclosed air lifting bags, when combined, offer the ability to move or lift over 12 Tonnes of weight on the seabed. This allows the Section to recover heavy items from depth. The ROV can assist with divers in the water in order to achieve the task.
Military Diving Training
The NSDS are the sole training establishment for military diving in the Defence Forces. The Section possesses a Recompression Chamber (RCC) to assist in this task. As well as training Naval Service divers, the Section also provides training for the Army Ranger Wing, in air and combat diving techniques.
In order to achieve the capabilities outlined above, the training for Naval divers is intensive. While many apply and commence training very few complete training and qualify as military divers. The diving course lasts over 10 weeks and takes volunteers from the Naval Service with little or no diving experience and trains them to dive using Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) and Surface Supplied Diving Equipment (SSDE). Divers are trained in seabed search techniques including zero visibility and strong tidal conditions.
Typically thirty personnel will apply to commence the course — with, on average, 4 divers successfully completing the training. On completion of the training the divers then begin to gain valuable experience as they respond to the many tasks that are undertaken by the Section.
In order to remain qualified as a diver or supervisor, divers meet the following annual criteria:
- General Defence Forces Fitness Test
- Diving Medical Examination
- Divers Physical Fitness Test
- Evaluation of Competency and Currency in Equipment
- Required time diving or supervising to be achieved on specific tasks