Diving in at the deep end

Posted: Tuesday 31st May 2011

A team of divers went where no men have gone before when they were assigned a mission at a wastewater treatment works.

The divers, from Seatech Commercial Diving Services, were hired to retrieve equipment that had fallen to the bottom of a 10-metre deep tank –filled with wastewater.

So unusual was the task, at Southern Water’s Hastings and Bexhill Wastewater Treatment Works, it was filmed for a Discovery Channel documentary.

Glenn Skelton, Managing Director from Seatech, said: “Our divers are highly trained specialists, well equipped to carry out this sort of work. Although it sounds nasty, it’s part of the job.

“We have a laugh and a joke but once the operation is underway it’s deadly serious. Tension mounts but you have to keep relaxed.”

The 25 metre x 4 metre tank contained wastewater that had gone through the first stage of the treatment process.

The aim of the project, planned by Southern Water contractor Morrison Utility Services, was to retrieve a large guide rail and a mixer from tank.

Diver, Lee Brown, from Brighton, was lowered into the tank in a cage manoeuvred by a crane, while a stand-by diver and a support team stood by.

There was no light inside the tank, so Lee relied on touch to find the equipment which was then connected to a chain and lifted out by crane.

Lee said: “It was pitch black and the liquid was quite difficult to move through but we’re used to conditions like this. As commercial divers, we find ourselves in dangerous places. The suit and helmet means you can’t smell anything and nothing touches your skin. If the suit were to tear, we’d go into full contamination mode.”

The whole process was filmed by production company Talkback Thames, which makes programmes including the X Factor, The Apprentice and Grand Designs. It will feature as part of an untitled documentary series about squeamish jobs to be aired later this year.

Southern Water and Morrison had spent three months planning the job. All wastewater flows into the tank had to be stopped to allow Lee to work in it safely.

This meant three pumping stations that feed into the works – which cleans wastewater from about 140,000 people in Hastings - were shut down, and all flows were stored in storm tanks rather than entering the works.

The job had to be completed within a six hour time-frame, to prevent the storm tanks filling up.

Southern Water’s Hastings District Manager Mark Wey, who was interviewed by the TV crew, said: “This was a complex job as the site had to remain operational, despite the treatment tanks being out of use. It involved a lot of communication between us, Morrison, the crane operators and the divers and was a good example of team work.

“The wastewater inside the tank had had the minimum amount of treatment – I wouldn’t have wanted to dive in there and I take my hat off to Lee.”

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