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Albert Head hosts international military diver training

Corp. Olivier Castonguay gets suited up for a training exercise as part of Roguish Buoy 2017, which brings together army personnel from various NATO allies in order to fine tune diving techniques and procedures. Castonguay’s task was to patch up an item on the ocean floor and bring it to the surface by injecting air. - Joel Tansey/News Gazette staff
Corp. Olivier Castonguay gets suited up for a training exercise as part of Roguish Buoy 2017, which brings together army personnel from various NATO allies in order to fine tune diving techniques and procedures. Castonguay’s task was to patch up an item on the ocean floor and bring it to the surface by injecting air.
— image credit: Joel Tansey/News Gazette staff

A small dock at Albert Head off the Metchosin coast has the look of a United Nations conference this month, and the bustle of activity isn’t limited to above-the-surface endeavours.

Canadian combat divers from across the country, as well as soldiers from NATO allies such as Belgium, Spain and the United States are participating in exercise Roguish Buoy 2017 until Feb. 26. The goal is to refine diving techniques and tactics and ensure that divers are capable of functioning in concert with their NATO colleagues.

The opportunity to work with other divers from around the globe has proven to be a tremendous experience says Capt. Harry Morrison, who is based out of CFB Gagetown in New Brunswick and participating in his third such event. He adds the Canadian army personnel – unlike their navy counterparts – are part-time divers, whereas many NATO army divers are full-timers.

“We do this as a secondary duty after combat engineering, so being able to glean their experience is invaluable. It’s one of the big reasons why this exercise is a success,” Morrison says.

On this dry and cloudy day, the team is engaging in an underwater patching exercise that can be used in the field to recover crucial equipment and other objects. It involves bringing a designated object up from the ocean floor.

“It’s basically a cube and they’re applying a patch to it and they’re going to fill that cube with air and bring it to the surface,” Morrison explains.

Cpl. Olivier Castonguay, based at CFB Petawawa in Ontario, is one of two divers on the task.

“The Americans are salvage divers so they are very good at patching and lifting and all that kind of work on the water so it’s very interesting to have them with us and we learn a lot from them,” he says.

Harrison agrees and points to the Americans’ proficiency with patching as a great learning tool for the Canadian team.

“It’s an extremely complex problem. You’re dealing with water pressure trying to get into the empty vessel; you’re dealing with air pressure trying to get out of it. It’s an interesting engineering challenge,” he notes.

For Belgian Bjorn Vendensteene, diving is 95 per cent of his job. He agrees that it’s nice to get a diverse group together to participate in these types of training exercises and learn from one another.

“It’s very nice to see all the procedures of all the diving teams together,” he says. “We’re always in mixed teams … (we see) things that are similar and things that are not.”

While some of the exercises, which also include underwater construction and demolition, might sound harmful to neighbouring wildlife, great care is taken to ensure that the environmental impact is negligible. The surrounding area is blocked off to ensure any ocean-dwellers don’t come into the blast area.

As for the conditions, the divers agree that Victoria has some of the best cold water visibility they’ve ever experienced.

“If we jump in here, we see 10 metres. If we see 10 centimetres in Belgium we’re already happy. So the conditions are excellent,” Vendensteene says, adding the better visibility allows him to complete tasks a lot quicker than what he’s used to.

“For combat divers, most of our tasks are conducted in inland waters and rivers,” Harrison says. “It’s ideal to be diving here because of the weather this time of year and because of the visibility.”

joel.tansey@goldstreamgazette.com

 

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