U.S. and Colombian Navies Practice Rescue Diving

U.S. and Colombian Navies Practice Rescue Diving

By Yolima Dussán/Diálogo
January 05, 2018

Divers from the Colombian Navy (ANC, in Spanish) and the U.S. Navy came together for three weeks in October and November 2017, at the Naval Base in Cartagena, Colombia. The mission: a knowledge exchange to update diving techniques—reviewed annually since 2015.

“We reviewed the special diving procedures to update them in accordance with the experience obtained in operations conducted in the past year, using new available tools, equipment, and technology,” Captain Carlos Andrés Escobar, chief of ANC’s Diving Department, told Diálogo. “Thanks to investigative capacities, experience, and supervision of the U.S. Navy, we gain reference, advice, and knowledge to define our objectives and focus on the acquisition of the latest technology.”

During the exercise, 30 divers from both countries attended theoretical and practical classes on decompression procedures, river diving, diving in frigid waters, neurological tests, rescues of conscious and unconscious divers, and procedures to determine decompression times. ANC showed great interest in frigid water rescues in preparation for its participation in an expedition to Antarctica.

U.S. divers shared their knowledge and procedures of techniques that were incorporated into ANC training manuals. The two countries also reviewed the 7th edition of the U.S. Diving Manual—which serves as the basis for the Colombian manual—to update security standards.

Reference, advice, and knowledge

Divers from the Caribbean Surface Fleet, the Cartagena and Turbo Coast Guard Stations, the International Coast Guard School, and the ANC Department of Diving and Salvage participated in the training. The U.S. Navy participated with the Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit No. 1. The first week of the exercise focused on planning, time management, and organization; the second on dry training and planning procedures; and, in the third, divers concentrated on practice.

“U.S. divers really simplified their operations. We still use low-pressure compressors and large, heavy equipment. They use high-pressure tanks, which are more practical and less noisy,” said to Diálogo Colombian Marine Corps First Sergeant John Romero, supervisor of the ANC Diving and Salvage School. “Their platforms are designed exclusively for diving activities. They have specialized research centers. Thanks to these exchanges, we soak up their progress and acquire capacities. We have major overlaps in theory and share certain skills, but what separates us is equipment.”

Decompression and hyperbaric chambers

A diver’s decompression depends on time and depth spent underwater. Both dictate whether a diver needs to decompress using a dive table—a chart that determines aspects of particular dives, such as breathing gas, decompression stops, and time, which both navies use. The replacement of low-pressure compressors with high-pressure tanks to supply divers with air, which affects the diver's safety during an ascent, highlighted the evolution of decompression procedures.

“The diver's life depends on a positive result from the decompression procedure; as such, reviewing it is of the utmost importance,” Capt. Escobar said. “There are huge advances here such as the use of hyperbaric chambers that simulate the pressure that a diver is subjected to and allow for a controlled and safe procedure to take place during the physiological process that the diver's body undergoes.”

Evolution in neurological tests

To determine what occurs in the mind and body of a diver is crucial. Neurological tests are a permanent point of analysis and development before and after any diving operation, especially for those that require greater depth and more time in the water.

“Experience indicates the presence of diving-related health conditions and advances in treatments,” Capt. Escobar said. “Health conditions are related to the physiology of the human body and its reaction to certain techniques, such as gas mixtures that create toxicity in the body. It’s also a tool to measure psychological effects.”

ANC has 400 divers assigned to tactical operations and salvage missions. This allows for the comparison of techniques within the group and with others.

“When we deal with recovery of a diver who is unconscious or injured, our U.S. counterparts use a technique that consists of tending to them directly through the air conduit and communication equipment,” 1st Sgt. Romero said. “We use another system that requires to pull the diver out of the water, put them on a platform, and proceed with the resuscitation protocol.”

Diving in rapids, a Colombian experience

Colombia’s waterways expand about 18,225 kilometers, which allowed Colombian divers to develop experience in rapids. “We’ve developed an important capacity to dive in rapids, in rivers where visibility is nil, forward movement is slow, and dangers varied,” ANC Lieutenant Junior Grade Nicolás Lizarazo Fernández, head of the Academic Department of ANC's Diving and Salvage School, told Diálogo. “To dive in rapids, it’s necessary to strictly adhere to safety guidelines and become accustomed to dark environments. The sediment in the rivers is very thick, it obstructs [the diver's] vision, and facilitates activation of the regulators, which can cause a rapid loss of air.”

The third exchange campaign between the navies of Colombia and the United States left clear tasks. The update laid out in Diving Manual No. 7 traced the order of procedures divers must use during their operations. They will have a year to identify improvements in these methods. The next campaign is scheduled for October 2018.