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King Charles gets diving update in Aberdeen

King Charles meets JFD staff at Aberdeen’s Global Underwater Hub
King Charles meets JFD staff at Aberdeen’s Global Underwater Hub

King Charles III had been diving the wreck of the Mary Rose in the Solent at about the same time that then-emerging subsea-equipment company JFD “struck gold” – with a new system that enabled the recovery of £140m-worth of gold from a deep Arctic warship wreck.

That had been in the early 1980s, but on 29 September this year an official visit brought the king and JFD together at Aberdeen’s Global Underwater Hub (GUH) facility. The meeting provided the opportunity for the royal diver to learn more about the manufacturer’s COBRA and Stealth manned-diving life-support systems and other subsea technology.

The king is the first UK monarch to be a qualified diver. He took up the pursuit more than half a century ago after becoming a Royal Navy cadet in 1971 and, according to JFD, retains a special interest in subsea technology and “a passion for the conservation of the ocean ecosystem”. 

JFD has provided equipment for the subsea market for 42 years, though its parent company James Fisher & Sons can trace its origins back to the 1850s. In 1981 JFD hit the ground running with its Diver Gas Recovery System, which enabled the successful salvage of a cargo of gold bullion from HMS Edinburgh, torpedoed in the Arctic Sea in 1942. 

HMS Edinburgh (Imperial War Museum)
HMS Edinburgh (Imperial War Museum)

The wreck was found at a depth of 245m and divers recovered gold valued today at more than £140 million, setting a depth record that still stands. “Without this innovation, saturation diving today would not be commercially practical,” says JFD.

As Prince of Wales, Charles took on the role of president of the British Sub-Aqua Club in 1974 and remained in the role for 40 years before passing it on to his son William. Stand-out underwater experiences for Charles included a dive under Arctic Ice in Canada with Dr Joe MacInnis in April 1975, and a series of dives on the Tudor warship Mary Rose in the Solent from 1974 to its raising in 1982.

Aberdeen’s Global Underwater Hub provides opportunities for networking and collaboration that help to bolster the UK market’s influence globally, says JFD, which was presented there during the royal visit with a selection of other local underwater companies.

King Charles showed interest in the COBRA (Compact Bail-out Rebreather System), which JFD describes as the world’s most widely adopted emergency bail-out system for commercial divers, offering 45 minutes of breathing gas in the event of a primary failure. He also heard about Stealth, a non-magnetic closed-circuit rebreather system used by mine-clearance divers. 

The two systems have played a pioneering safety role in the deep-diving and hyperbaric industries, says JFD, and both have been designed, manufactured, maintained and exported from its Aberdeen facility. 

King Charles is briefed by JFD operations director Danny Gray and MD Rob Hales (left)
King Charles is briefed by JFD operations director Danny Gray and MD Rob Hales (left)

Also part of JFD in Aberdeen since 2015 has been the National Hyperbaric Centre, built in 1987 by the UK government for subsea testing, research and training purposes. It also acquired Ansti Test Systems in 2020 to give it the capability to design and manufacture test facilities for performance measurement of underwater / surface breathing apparatus. Ansti had long been used to test all recreational diving regulators on the UK market.

“It was an honour to meet the king and discuss JFD’s role providing life-saving and safety-critical services to our customers in the energy and defence sectors,” said JFD managing director Rob Hales. “We are immensely proud of our 40-year track record at the forefront of our industry, with our expertise in demand by partners around the world.

“The visit was also a fantastic opportunity to reflect on the incredible innovation which started and continues in our Aberdeen facility and engage with the local community and school children who also attended the visit. 

“We are passionate about inspiring the next generation and always keen to give them an insight into the diverse and interesting subsea industry.” 

Also on Divernet: Charles III UK’s First Scuba Diving Monarch, ‘My Arctic dive with Prince Charles’, ’Diving Is A Wonderful Sport’ – Prince Philip RememberedWilliam & Kate Go Diving In Belize

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