THE explosive expertise of a team of Royal Navy clearance divers from Portsmouth has been put to the test in Iceland.
The group of 12 bomb disposals operators from South Diving Group, which has a team based in the city, joined about 200 tri-service Nato personnel in Exercise Northern Challenge.
It saw the squad disarming improvised explosive devices at sea and on land as well as preserving devices to help forensic officers hunt down bomb makers.
Commanding officer of Southern Diving Group, Lieutenant Commander Al Nekrews said: ‘Iceland is an excellent place to train as we can use live weapons and explosives; so it is an opportunity to make the training as realistic as possible.’
The two-week exercise, now in its 14th year, provided 22 teams with a variety of challenges both in land and maritime environments, with each task increasing in difficulty to test the operators and their teams.
The teams all had to work within NATO and their nation’s own standing operating procedures.
In the Royal Navy team’s case it meant that once the two improvised explosive device (IED) disposal operators – Petty Officer Sam ‘Nobby’ Clark and Chief Petty Officer Simon Crew – have decided how they will tackle the device, they must radio through to Lt Cdr Nekrews to get his approval.
CPO Crew said: ‘We have a strict set of procedures that we have learned from historical bomb disposal operations in Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan so many of the teams here look to us in order to learn from our experiences. We have a very stringent process – and one of these is to call into the CO to describe exactly what we are seeing and our plan to disable it.’
One of the main aims of the exercise is to ensure that the operators and their teams focus on retaining the device – or parts of it – for forensic testing. The idea is to target the bomb makers directly – a tactic that proved successful on Op Herrick, resulting in a number of high-profile arrests.
Teams have to bag their evidence and bring it to a lab at the headquarters where a Danish forensic expert examined the parts to report back his findings to the main briefing each morning.
The exercise not only tested the bomb disposal team but also the rest of the diving team from Southern Diving Group who are split between Portsmouth and Plymouth bases.
‘The Royal Navy is capable of operating at land and in the maritime environment, but our niche capability is the underwater EOD capability,’ added Lt Cdr Nekrews.
Scenarios included a boat rigged up with an IED on board, a limpet mine attached to a coastguard vessel and a suicide diver with explosives attached to his air cylinders.