Proving their mettle

Proving their mettle

To the naval divers, home is Sembawang Camp, with its sprawling colonial-style barracks and a breeze that sways the coconut trees along the shore and dries wet clothes in a jiffy.

Once known as Terror Camp, the former shore accommodation for British sailors sits on the northernmost tip of Singapore and was once part of the enormous Singapore Naval Base, a British outpost completed in 1939.

After World War II, the camp housed the British Far East Fleet Clearance Diving Team, whose divers serviced the Royal Navy's warships, recovered overboard items and dealt with the live munitions lying dangerously on the sea floor, legacies of the conflict with Japan.

When the fleet left Singapore in the close of 1971, 16 Singaporeans took over the premises and established the Singapore Armed Forces Diving Centre to support vessels of the young city-state's fledgling Maritime Command.

It was not until the mid-80s, however, that the unit began ramping up its underwater explosive ordnance disposal capabilities to protect merchant shipping in Singapore waters, as well as swelling its ranks to cope with the navy's growing fleet.

Today, the Naval Diving Unit is the navy's special operations arm.

Intensively trained and incredibly fit, its scuba-equipped frogmen specialise in combat diving operations such as mine clearance and underwater demolition.

Also experts at the grim task of search and recovery in zero-visibility conditions, naval divers repeatedly proved their mettle during the 1983 Singapore Cable Car disaster, the 1997 SilkAir MI185 crash in Palembang, Indonesia, and the 2007 Adam Air search and location mission, retrieving bodies or the remains of victims on all three occasions.

With unconventional threats such as pirate attacks, weapons smuggling and terrorism an increasing menace to vessels on the high seas, the unit also counts security ship boarding and special boat tactics as part of its portfolio, with teams currently on international counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden.


This article was first published on July 26, 2014.
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