It takes a special breed of sailor to choose a life of living cheek by jowl in a steel tube whose distinguishing characteristic is to sink into the gloomy depths. But any ‘sinking feeling’ this might evoke would be greatly alleviated by knowing that a sophisticated rescue facility is permanently standing-by should one’s submarine ever fail to rise again.
One such global facility is maintained by JFD Australia, Bibra Lake, in Perth’s south and it was at its premises that a sell-out tour from across Perth’s industrial landscape was conducted in June – organised by WA DEFENCE REVIEW in partnership with Subsea Innovation Cluster Australia (SICA).
Starting with a very informative presentation by JFD General Manager, Toff Idrus, the tour included a walk around the facility to see its specialised rescue vehicle, transfer and treatment chambers, rescue-related equipment, and diving gear. The tour culminated in a convivial networking time over a light lunch.
In the event of a rescue being required, standby facilities globally are called upon to calculate the time it would take reach the site, as success is time-critical. For JFD, that means having all their equipment on board a suitable ship close to the site within 48 hours.
To make this possible, every piece of equipment is kept maintained, colour coded and stored for immediate departure; suitable ships, called Vessels of Opportunity, are constantly tracked for availability; and JFD staff are routinely rehearsed in operational procedures. Once a year JFD cooperates with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) to make an actual undersea docking with a Collins-class submarine.
When a crew is returned to the surface they are immediately transferred to JFD treatment chambers on the rescue ship, to compensate for changed barometric pressures. It is a complete service and making it constantly available is a requirement of JFD’s contract with the Commonwealth Government.
In addition to submarine rescue, JFD operates HMAS Stirling’s submarine escape training facility, in which sailors learn to free-swim to the surface from relatively shallow depths. There are situations, where the best escape strategy is to exit the submarine, either through a hatch or via a hole cut by the rescuers, and there are things the escapee must know. For example, contrary to one’s instinct, its necessary to exhale constantly on the way to the surface to compensate for changing pressures.
A third service JFD provides, both to the RAN and private customers, is diving equipment, such as the rebreathing (bubble-free) sets used by Navy Clearance Divers – the Navy version of special forces.
A company with a global presence, JFD has facilities in Aberdeen, Bremen, Cape Town, Singapore, Glasgow, Sydney, Vaxholm and Virginia. Importantly, from its advanced manufacturing base at Bibra Lake, JFD’s highly skilled engineers and tradespeople are exporting their world-leading equipment including to nations in the Asia-Pacific region.
In his presentation, Managing Director, Toff Idrus, said that the Bibra Lake facility is now included in the Defence and Industry Study Course (DISC) program. The DISC has been run regularly since World War II to bring together upwardly mobile people in industry, public service and the ADF to promote understanding of each other’s potential to contribute to Australia’s defence. The course is an acknowledgement that in times of war the defence of Australia is not the sole province of a professionals, but the business of everyone. JFD’s inclusion on the agenda is apt, as they are a perfect illustration of the nexus that exists between industry and Defence.
“Our visit to JFD in Bibra Lake perfectly highlighted the common ground between the defence and energy industries in the subsea sector. JFD is a prime example of a company operating extremely successfully in both industries. The Company is well known worldwide for their high-quality saturation diving systems and deep rebreather systems, improving the safety of saturation divers working in oil and gas. At the same time, JFD’s military diving equipment is used by many of the world’s navies and their submarine rescue system is world class. To perform so successfully in both industries is indeed remarkable”.
Richard Rickett, Cluster Manager, Subsea Innovation Cluster Australia
“The tour of the facility was very eye-opening to the capability we have in Western Australia. Defence industries in WA don’t get a lot of recognition for the important work they do, it is therefore pleasing to see such highly-skilled work being completed here. Being able to attend a tour with experts and be ‘hands-on’ within the facility assists enormously in understanding not only the industry but also the unique problems it faces. The tour was very worthwhile and will be happy to attend something similar in future”.
Bill Marmion MLA, Liberal Party of WA, Shadow Minister for Defence Issues