Shipwreck simulator for rescue divers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 September, 2010, 12:00am

In the wake of the tragic sinking of a Ukrainian tugboat near Hong Kong International Airport that claimed 18 lives two years ago, the Fire Services Department is to build an underwater shipwreck simulator to better train its divers.

Part of the HK$1.5 million hull-shaped facility, to be installed in the department's eight-metre-deep dive-training pool at Stonecutters Island, will be ready later this year.

Designed to resemble a wreck, it will allow trainees to experience the sea conditions they are likely to face during rescues. A wave generator that is able to create 1.5-metre-high waves will also be used.

'It will enhance the techniques and capability of our divers to deal with similar situations in future,' Hong Kong's chief fire officer, Lai Man-hin, said yesterday. It will also help to improve co-ordination, co-operation and efficiency during underwater operations.

Poor visibility, strong currents and decompression risks hampered efforts by divers trying to rescue crew trapped in the upturned hull of the tugboat Neftegaz-67, 37 metres below the surface, after it collided with the mainland cargo ship Yaohai off Tuen Mun on March 22, 2008.

The pool on the roof of the department's four-storey diving base can also simulate strong currents and about 2,500 firemen including paramedics have so far received such training.

Divisional officer Eric Kwan Kam-wing of the department's diving unit said screens were used to cover the diving helmets so that divers could experience low-visibility conditions.

The department's diving unit has about 150 divers responsible for all aquatic search and rescue in the city. Divers have been called out to about 580 incidents a year. The incidents involved boat accidents, water sports accidents and drowning.

As more people take up scuba diving, they could suffer from decompression illness and need treatment in the department's decompression chamber, according to senior station officer Yuen Kin-pun.

Statistics show that 11 people suffering from decompression illness had been treated in the chamber in the first seven months of this year. Nine patients were treated last year and 14 in 2008.

The HK$140 million diving base was commissioned in October last year. The training facilities include a deep dive simulator, rapid pool and helicopter winch simulator with electric fans.

The department said trainees could learn the basic skills, and undergo drills and exercises in controlled and safe environments at the diving base. After acquiring the necessary techniques and experience, they will be trained in the open sea to gain practical experience.