Subsea training and trials centre, The Underwater Centre, has become the world’s only commercial diving school to offer a closed bell saturation diving system with a self-propelled hyperbaric lifeboat (SPHL), following a major refurbishment.
Thanks to significant investment and support from the global oil and gas sector, The Underwater Centre relaunched its three-week closed bell diving course in June. The first course was fully subscribed, and applications are open for future courses.
Subsea 7 and TechnipFMC have provided technical support, site supervision and conducted the refurbishment work on behalf of The Underwater Centre, which was also project managed by Subsea 7 with close collaboration and support from TechnipFMC. The combined resources and collaboration between The Underwater Centre, Subsea 7 and TechnipFMC served as an example of working together as one team.
As well as refurbishing equipment, completely rebuilding the closed bell and adding the SPHL from Subsea 7’s decommissioned Rockwater 1, a vessel has been converted to create a new training system – renamed Deep Diver 1.
SPHLs are one of the main means of evacuating divers form a saturation diving environment in the event of an emergency and are an important part of most modern closed bell diving systems.
Having this facility available on The Underwater Centre’s closed bell courses will provide a more realistic training environment than was previously available, better preparing trainees for their future roles and providing a best-practice training experience.
The redevelopment of the system and course is seen by industry as key to maintaining the UK’s ability to train closed bell divers and underlines confidence that demand for saturation divers will grow as the energy sector continues to recover from the global downturn.
Industry and public bodies including Oil & Gas UK, Subsea UK, Subsea 7, TechnipFMC, Premier Oil and Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) recently collaborated to support The Underwater Centre and ensure its future success.
Located in Fort William in the Scottish Highlands, the company now operates as a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee and is funded and supported by its members.
David McGhie, managing director of The Underwater Centre, says, “We are now the only closed bell trainer in the world which has a self-propelled hyperbaric lifeboat. This is something our industry partners have been calling for and it demonstrates renewed confidence that the need for new saturation divers will be there for many years to come as a vital skill set for the subsea sector.”
“The Underwater Centre continues to deliver realistic closed bell training that is industry focussed and the new saturation diving system combines fantastic equipment, industry support, the latest training techniques and current best practice to significantly enhance our saturation diver training. Our restructure and ongoing collaboration with our partners have enabled us to redesign the system in consultation with the industry and deliver these courses,” he continues.
McGhie adds, “We are particularly grateful to Subsea 7 and TechnipFMC for the help and support they have given us in helping to create an improved training environment which uses the very latest technology and positions us the only provider to offer this combination of facilities.”
Recent research from DNV GL, the technical advisor to the oil and gas industry, confirms that senior oil and gas sector professionals expect to step up spending on training and competence this year. The figure expecting to increase investment in this area has nearly doubled from last year, up from 17% to 31%.
Jonathan Tame, Vice President UK & Canada, Subsea 7, says, “We were pleased to provide support for the redevelopment of the diver training facilities at The Underwater Centre, which is recognised by the industry as being key to maintaining the UK’s ability to train closed bell divers, given the need for them in the future. The industry relevant specialist equipment that The Underwater Centre now has puts it at the forefront of diver training globally.”
Kevin Thomson, Vice President of TechnipFMC’s Marine Operations Services, says, “It is essential we are able to train divers in an environment which is as realistic, and safe, as possible and we have worked closely with The Underwater Centre to ensure the refurbished closed bell training facilities continue to closely mirror those you would find offshore. The new SPHL is a fantastic addition and the new equipment makes use of the very latest technology.”
Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK, said: “Subsea UK has been supporting The Underwater Centre, as one of our member companies, for many months to work more closely with industry and the launch of the new SPHL training facility is great news which will ensure the centre remains the global diving centre of choice.”
The HSE Closed Bell qualification allows divers to work at various depths using oxygen and helium breathing mixtures and saturation techniques. Taught by saturation divers with decades of experience, the HSE Closed Bell certification is valid across the world.
The Underwater Centre is a purpose-built subsea training and trials facility which incorporates an extensive pier complex including four dive stations, classrooms, workshops and decompression chambers. Based on the shore of Loch Linnhe, sheltered by the surrounding mountains, the centre’s unique location allows it to provide year-round training and testing in an open-water environment, while still being centrally located in Fort William, the largest town in the Scottish Highlands.