A Royal Australian Navy diver was hospitalised when an underwater warfare training exercise went wrong at Pittwater.

On the eve of the major defence announcement that Australia will acquire nuclear powered submarines, the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) was conducting night time underwater warfare exercises from its base at Clareville.

Around 12.30am yesterday (Wednesday, 15 September) NSW Ambulance paramedics were called to the key underwater warfare training facility of HMAS Penguin at Taylors Point, Clareville.

The RAN diver, a man aged in his 20s, was participating in a 2000 yard compass swim, which is a navigation exercise designed to reach a target underwater.

Special operations navy diver using Shadow rebreather unit

The exercise was being conducted late at night, in total darkness, using stealth underwater breathing apparatus favoured by special forces. The Shadow Excursion rebreather conceals the approach of frogmen, with protective armouring for ballistic protection.

The exercise which commenced before midnight Tuesday, was interrupted when the diver is believed to have suffered a temporary loss of consciousness in around 7m of water.

NSW Ambulance paramedics were called to the naval base just after 12.30am Wednesday morning. The diver was treated at the scene and taken to Northern Beaches Hospital shortly after 1.00am in a stable condition.

A Department of Defence spokesperson confirmed the incident occurred at the Clareville military base.

“A Royal Australian Navy member was hospitalised following a diving incident at Pittwater late last night (Tuesday, 14 September 2021) while undertaking scheduled diving training. An ambulance was called and the member was subsequently transported to hospital,” said the spokesperson.

The Department of Defence spokesperson confirmed that the diver had been released from hospital on Wednesday morning.

“The safety of personnel is Navy’s highest priority. All diving has been ceased at the location while the circumstances surrounding the incident are being investigated,” said the spokesperson.

The spokesperson declined to comment on the nature of the treatment provided to the RAN diver but it is understood a hyperbaric chamber was not required.

HMAS Penguin annexe at Taylors Point, Clareville

The naval base at Taylors Point is part of HMAS Penguin, which is located at Middle Harbour. The base was established during the Second World War as a torpedo testing range which lasted until the 1980s.

Since then it has been an underwater warfare training facility for RAN divers. The base received a significant renovation in 2013. The importance of the RAN’s underwater warfare capability has been underscored by today’s announcement of Australia’s intention to acquire nuclear powered submarines, which was enthusiastically backed by Mackellar MP Jason Falinski.

Jason Falinski

Jason Falinski

“This is the only time outside of a one-off deal in 1958 with the United Kingdom, the United States has shared its nuclear submarine technology to another country. It secures our alliance in what is a strategically difficult and dynamic environment in which we live and ensures the safety and protection of the Australian people,” said Mr Falinski.

Pittwater has a long connection with naval special operations. During World War Two, the ‘Z Special Unit’ of naval commandos were based at Refuge Bay and trained in Pittwater for attacks behind enemy lines, including the famous ‘Operation Jaywick‘ night raid on Japanese ships in Singapore Harbour on 26 September, 1943.

Images: Northern Beaches Advocate, James Fisher and Sons PLC

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