Underwater EOD – a Framework Commentary

By Richard Battrick MSc MPA CEng FIExpE, Battrick Consultancy Limited

The near and offshore environment in and around northern European waters is undergoing project managed phases of development which include infrastructure in support of the offshore renewable sector, oil and gas, communications, pipelines, cables and subsea architecture that is susceptible to damage that may be caused by historic Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) in the maritime environment. It is not just ordnance from WW1 and WW2 that affects the marine environment, it is anywhere affected by conflict that results in explosive contamination. When any such region needs to implement economic recovery, such as afflicted regions in the Middle East, North Africa or South East Asia, then contaminated areas need to be cleared prior to the start of construction activities. Even in areas not affected by conflict, there may be an issue regarding post-war dumping at sea and in waterways, contamination from peace time exercise activities undertaken by military air and naval assets, or just from reclamation of water space earmarked by government authorities for ‘live’ weapons practice, such as military firing ranges or charted exercise areas. In any event, notwithstanding the environmental impact of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) prevalent in the marine environment, there is increasing demand for commercial, government and non-governmental agencies to clear underwater munitions and historic ordnance which presents a complex challenge. Until recent years, any such activity was coordinated by military units using highly trained operators with a skill-set in mine warfare, survey and diving disciplines.

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In Water Explosion.


Legal Considerations. Legislative and regulatory frameworks, include the breakdown of coastal zones, the application of public international law for oceans, seabed boundaries, international waters and territorial waters, international maritime law, national licensing and regulatory issues for the maritime environment.

International Standards. Risk mitigation activity has always been properly regulated within military organisations and is procedurally consistent with the nature and variety of the underwater munitions that are likely to be encountered in a particular region, with survey, diving and clearance standards governed at national level. In the commercial world, there is only a single International Mine Action Standard (IMAS) draft document for Underwater Survey and Clearance of Explosive Ordnance (EO) that has yet to be ratified by the IMAS Review Board which has been established to oversee the continuous review process for the standards. Industry guidance across northern Europe and North America remains embryonic. Even international diving standards are largely articulated to support oil and gas surface demand diving operations, and the risk management approach to dealing with ERW in the maritime environment is down to the commercial organisation to conduct risk analysis, select appropriate diving equipment, Remotely Operated Vehicles (RoVs) and articulate technical procedures for the identification, removal and/or destruction of underwater ERW. Given that each case requires different equipment, survey and identification processes based on the varying water depths, visibility, tidal stream, currents and seabed conditions, implementing consistent standards in operations becomes increasingly complex.

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RN Clearance Divers. (© Crown Copyright).

National Standards. These vary depending on the qualification, competence and experience of the national regulatory authority. The international standard promotes a well-rounded underwater and survey process and also raises the issue of specific underwater training in EO operations, without drilling down into specific underwater expertise requirements, and although there is an insistence on valid diving qualification and certification, it lacks detail on monitoring requirements and verification of diving standards. This is a critical industry vulnerability at the moment with existing diving contractors and survey organisations turning to EO business activities without the necessary expertise or know-how in managing explosive risk and applying standard diving approved codes of practice for the adherence to surface demand operations. In any event, governing bodies cannot be seen to advocate certain diving practices and Self- Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus (SCUBA) diving contravenes European approved codes of practice for inshore and offshore diving activities. The Canadian Standards Association, CSA Z275.6- 11, for Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and munitions diving, articulates the requirements for the use of SCUBA, surface supply and mixed gas operations to work safely, competently and with a knowledge of the practical application of techniques and equipment used in UXO diving operations. In 2004, the Regional Centre for Divers Training in Underwater Demining, Montenegro, produced Standard Operating Procedures for Humanitarian Demining in South East Europe, essentially outlining the scope of activities to be undertaken by the underwater deminer and advocating the use of SCUBA. In any event, existing diving standards dealing with EO makes benchmarking difficult, use different vocabulary/abbreviations and do not articulate the necessary specifications for underwater ordnance management systems for the supply chain, or specific guidelines for EO and diving organisations engaged in providing contracted underwater survey and explosive services. Moreover, equipment performance, selection and procurement standardisation is inconsistent, including the use and implementation of RoVs, survey techniques and technical requirements for the specific nature of regional ERW contamination.

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Cobra Shaped Charge. (Source: Courtesy of ECS Special Projects Ltd)

In the UK, the Construction Industry Research Information Association (CIRIA) in 2015 produced the C-754 guidance to contractors for the assessment and management of offshore UXO risk in the marine environment. Based on the baseline established by existing UK Crown Estates guidance in dealing with munitions in marine sediments, the CIRIA guidance was broadly supported by commercial contractors and stakeholders routinely managing underwater UXO risk and it sets out to provide information on the UXO risk assessment process and framework for dealing with underwater UXO risks to marine and offshore project activity. It promotes industry best-practice and project sign-off requirements under the UK ALARP process (the concept of managing risk “as low as reasonably practicable”, which involves weighing a risk against the trouble, time and money needed to control it). The guidance also introduces the categorisation of marine Explosive Ordnance, focussing on artillery projectiles, small arms ammunition, mortars, light weapons, sea mines, depth charges and torpedoes. Each particular item has a different size, shape and structure, including mass and ferrous content, which all affect the type of survey approach, selection of technical survey equipment, techniques and emergency planning. This is a broad perspective and an introduction to certain concepts. What the guide doesn’t do is give an international breakdown of the types of EO potentially encountered and the technical description required to destroy, neutralise or render safe so that it can be removed from the contaminated site for disposal.

Cobra Mine Disposal System being deployed at sea. (Source: Courtesy of ECS Special Projects Ltd)

Cobra Mine Disposal System being deployed at sea. (Source: Courtesy of ECS Special Projects Ltd)

International underwater EOD Level 1 – 3 and 3+ Competencies are detailed in the IMAS Test and Evaluation Protocol (TE&P), 09.30/01/2014, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Competency Standards. They are generic considerations only and tabulate varying degrees of expertise for maritime disposal, hazards, planning, PPE and advisory support. Military qualification and competence, however, centres on EOD qualification as a land bomb disposaleer, leading up to advanced underwater EOD and clearance diving qualification, including mine warfare survey qualification. Homeland Security Qualifications set out national occupational standards for explosive substances and articles through the UK Standards Setting Body for Explosives, Munitions and Search Occupations (SSB for EMSO), which is guided by military explosive standards, qualification and competency. The national occupational standards set out the context of activities, performance criteria and knowledge requirements, establishing a comprehensive explosive standard and have been adopted by the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs (UN ODA) and EU Excert (certifying expertise in the European explosive sector) as ‘best-practice’. They are now being rolled out across the European explosive industry and compliance provides assurance of competency to regulators and contracting organisations. HSQ’s occupational standards for explosive substances and articles had significant input from the Royal Navy’s Fleet Diving Squadron and although there is no direct reference to underwater demining, the diving activities fall under the category of ‘hazardous environments’, which could mean diving. If this existing standard were to be combined with specific diving activities, performance criteria and knowledge requirements, it would provide a comprehensive standard to maritime EO diving, qualification and competence.

Cobra Mine Disposal System using laser pointer on a target. (Source: Courtesy of ECS Special Projects Ltd)

Cobra Mine Disposal System using laser pointer on a target.
(Source: Courtesy of ECS Special Projects Ltd)

Specialist and Project Specific Insurance. Comprehensive understanding of diving activities, underwater EO technical requirements and performance criteria when carrying out explosive risk activities, needs to be carefully conveyed to the insurer. This means that any such activity needs to be properly evidenced so that the appropriate levels of risk insurances for professional indemnity and public liability schedules, including other relevant insurance policies, can be implemented with the full understanding of activity to be protected against, which should include insurance against physical loss or damage to the defined scope of work throughout the lifecycle of the project. Like any other profession, demonstrable qualification and competence, aligned with appreciation of the risk-levels, helps promote understanding and deliver affordable cover.

With the increased demand for commercial, government and non-governmental agencies to clear underwater munitions and historic ordnance, the maritime environment presents unique risk management challenge when dealing with Explosive Ordnance operations. The dynamic nature of the maritime environment means that even having conducted a comprehensive technical ERW survey, there is potential for ordnance to migrate, be buried or uncovered as the seabed changes after a period of time. Risk assessment and planning, therefore, needs to be carefully applied with an innate understanding of the underwater EO risks, potential explosive dangers and innate understanding of the types of underwater ordnance that are likely to be encountered. Accurate geophysical survey is essential in locating and identifying potential targets, so understanding the maritime environment, equipment capabilities and limitations with the right technical approach to underwater explosive hazards is key. The environment itself promotes operational risk, including the control of human factors and related activities, which is why the need for a comprehensive standard approach is essential. Understanding the financial operational risk of using expensive high specification equipment in the maritime environment, susceptible to harsh weather conditions, such as storms, winds and currents, whilst operating in difficult and dangerous regions is also very important. Preparation of project delivery that embraces relevant industry regulation, organisation competence, individual qualification and underwater technical experience is more likely to achieve successful execution and control during the project activities. Subsequently, milestone monitoring of EO project delivery is easily tracked and completion of risk mitigation activities can be signed-off and closed out. Without a comprehensive baseline in underwater EO and diving regulation when dealing with maritime ordnance, phases of delivery are less transparent, harder to identify and difficult to verify completion. ■


Draft IMAS 09.60, Underwater Survey and Clearance of Explosive Ordnance (EO), December 2014.

CIRIA C-754, Assessment and management of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) risk in the marine environment, 2015.

Crown Estates, Dealing with munitions in marine sediments, 2010.

CSA Z275.6-11, Unexploded Explosive Ordnance (UXO) and munitions diving, 2011.

SEEMACC, Standard Operating Procedures for Humanitarian Demining in South East Europe, 2004.

Test and Evaluation Protocol, 09.30/01/2014, Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Competency Standards.

Homeland Security Qualification (HSQ), SSB for EMSO, UK National Occupational Standards, 2006.

IATG 01.90, Ammunition management personnel competencies, 2015.


Richard Battrick 100 pixRichard Battrick is a former Royal Navy Mine Warfare Clearance Diving Officer with a 22-year career engaged as UK Royal Navy officer, Principal Warfare Officer (PWO), Air Defender (AWO) and Joint Service Instructor, culminating in Command of the RN’s Southern Diving Group. Commercial experience has been gained as a Director of a leading maritime security company overseeing counter-piracy operations in the Middle East and more recently from running an independent Consultancy engaged in ordnance management, maritime security and defence activities, in support of approved codes of practice, industry standards and safe systems of work. Richard is a board member of the UK explosive sector Standards Setting Body for Explosives, Munitions and Search Occupations (SSB for EMSO), an industry advisor to the UK Government All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Explosive Weapons and a member of the GICHD expert focus group for the new underwater International Mine Action Standard (IMAS).