With a relatively quiet winter I’m quite certain that I wasn’t the only sailor onboard that was itching to get back their sea-legs!
As spring was fast approaching we were contacted by a company that none of us onboard had heard of and it was requested that we meet with a gentleman regarding a possible project and to aid him in determining if our vessel, the Maersk Recorder would be suitable to carry out a short project.
That man was Lieutenant Commander Adrian Dann RNR, a man I am extremely grateful to have met and have the pleasure of sailing with. He came onboard and introduced himself as the EOD technician who would be the project superintendent. We all looked puzzled and were scratching our heads… ‘Pardon for asking Sir but what exactly is an EOD?’ At this time we still had no idea what on earth this ‘possible project’ was!
‘Explosive Ordnance Disposal’
With that, you could hear a pin drop… Everyone’s ears pricked and he had our full attention. He explain that the job was to survey a designated area with the Remotely Operated Vehicle ROV, take a visual of identified targets and determine if they were deemed to be unexploded ordinance, in lay mans terms… Mines, missiles, bombs, ammunition etc. and then if so… Blow them up!
In ten years at sea I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited to do a project! I simply couldn’t understand why my girlfriend didn’t have the same enthusiasm for the work as I did; in fact I was met with silence when I explained we would have half a tonne of SEMTEX A1/C4 on the back deck!
As you can imagine the vessel buzzed with excitement fuelled by Adrian and his team of experts telling stories or ‘spinning dits’ as the Royal Navy would say… And of course copious amounts of coffee!
We set about preparing the ship for the arrival of A LOT of specialist kit, and began the tedious work of cross checking risk assessments and methodology, a particularly hard job when you have no experience in such matters but together as a team we did some work I’m truly proud of! After several long days and several even longer nights we were finally able to set sail to our destination in German waters!
Once there we began to survey and waited for permission to begin ‘clearance ops’ AKA blowing up the mines with an incredibly simple but clever device called a barracuda, which is loaded with up to 2kg of plastic explosive or ‘primary energetic’ placed by the ROV and fired into the charge case of a mine or identified UXO. We waited and waited and surveyed lots of potential targets, all with itchy trigger fingers!
Adrian and his colleague; fellow EOD expert Warrant Officer RNR. Alistair Jackson both took time out to demonstrate to us what was involved in the work, it’s safety precautions and even showed us various ‘dummy’ training models of all the fascinating equipment they have to use! Those two were not only the epitome of the term professional but also two of the nicest and most fascinating people I’ve had the pleasure of sailing with, both of whom quite often took time out of their rest periods to explain the intricacies of the mines, how they worked, who made them and just about anything you want to know about what we were dealing with!
Who knew the North Sea is absolutely littered with both British and German mines, bombs from planes on their way home with remaining payload that was ditched to save fuel on the flight home, I must admit I felt very naive but absolutely fascinated!
Unfortunately the permission we needed was not granted whilst our team was onboard and we had to return to port to hand over to our ‘back to backs’ absolutely devastated that we had worked so hard to prepare ship and procedure but had to hand over the fun stuff! For the next 5 weeks I may have muttered and mumbled a few thoughts about my feelings for that situation but all was not lost… We had 5 left to do when I returned to work! It is often said that a picture speaks 1000 words so allow me to finish with a picture of what a 500kg World War Two mine looks like when blown up from a depth of 30 metres! : D