EXPEDITION AIMS AND THE DIVING TEAM:
Lt Cdr Jez Spring RNR, a Leadership Instructor based at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, has just returned from leading a sub-aqua diving expedition on the island of Borneo. EX ASIAN ADVENTURE II (28 September – 13 October 2019) was the most ambitious Adventurous Training Diving Expedition undertaken by the Royal Navy in 2019.
Twelve divers (7 RN, 4 RM and 1 Army) from 8 different Units across England and Scotland took part, with the Expedition Leader receiving a generous grant of £350 from the Ulysses Trust. The expedition was unique in that it took place in two different countries, each with their own distinct types of diving activity.
WEEK 1 – BRUNEI:
Week 1 was based at Poni Divers in Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei. Here, the focus was on the excellent wreck diving that the country has to offer. The wrecks here are large (30 to 90 metres long) and are at an accessible depth for most sports divers (25 to 35 metres deep). Being relatively undisturbed, the wrecks are teeming with marine life, with massive schools of fish being a highlight.
Four of the more experienced divers took part in an Accelerated Decompression Course where divers are taught to use more complicated diving techniques, which includes using different gas mixtures at different diving depths.
WEEK 2 – MALAYSIA:
A short (40-minute) flight across the border saw the expedition team relocate to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia for Week 2 of the expedition. Here the team were based with Down Below Marine Centre and spent a further 4 days conducting reef diving from Gaya Island. Known for its coral reefs, the team even saw Hawksbill Turtles and Black-Tipped Reef Sharks!
During this week the 5 least experienced divers were introduced to more advanced-diving techniques using Twin-Set configurations. This is where the diver carries 2 diving cylinders (rather than a standard single cylinder), each with its own independent breathing regulator. Using this setup gives each diver a far greater supply of air for their dive, an increased safety factor and the ability to conduct longer dives. The downside to this type of configuration is that the diving equipment is far heavier out of the water and needs additional training in air supply monitoring and regulator switching underwater.
EXPEDITION DIVER TESTIMONY:
Cpl J P, Royal Marines, had the following to say about his expedition experience:
“The entire experience was excellent and whilst all the dive sites were unique, my personal highlight was the ‘Australian Wreck’ in Brunei. The trip had some challenging diving and it was great to gain new experiences whilst improving my own skills as a diver.”
Being military Adventurous Training meant that there were a considerable number of rules, regulations and processes to be followed during the planning, approval and practical phases of the expedition. Initial planning therefore started way back in November 2018. Both dive centres (which are Commercial MoD Approved Centres) were engaged early and the initial expedition approval was granted in January 2019 at the Main Expedition Board. Final approval for the expedition to go ahead was only granted 4 days before the team flew out to Brunei!
With the correct ratios of divers, supervisors and instructors then identified from across the UK, diving equipment had to be sourced for them. The necessary funds (£25k) were then steadily secured using 10 different funding sources (from Personal Contributions, Public and Non-Public channels). Flights deposits were paid in February, with an option for free name changes up to 2 weeks prior to departure; a necessity given that of the original 12 divers identified, only 6 of them finally made the expedition! Diplomatic Clearance was sought and gained from the British High Commission (BHC) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
The most significant challenge to be dealt with during the expedition was when 1 of the 3 Expedition Diving Supervisors became seriously ill in Malaysia and required hospital treatment. This resulted in him and the Expedition Leader remaining in country for an additional 2 days (with BHC approval) after the main expedition group returned to UK.
All 12 members gained a great deal from their experiences on EX ASIAN ADVENTURE II. New diving qualifications were gained, new diving techniques and equipment taught, and detailed explanations of how to run Service Adventurous Training was passed to the team.
The expedition was focussed on transferring skills and knowledge to the next generation of military diving instructors and supervisors. All 12 have returned to their individual Units as more competent and experienced Service personnel following a physically and mentally challenging 2 weeks in South East Asia.
Lt Cdr Jez Spring RNR
EX ASIAN ADVENTURE II