In 2003, the Grampian Police dive team was approached by a local vendor about using a very small remotely operated vehicle to make diving missions safer and more efficient. The Seabotix unit was donated, along with support services, in order to make it easier for Grampian to implement this technology.
The concept of using a small, portable remotely operated vehicle was very appealing to Grampian. A primary attraction was the safety of their diving officers, who were frequently asked to search for or recover bodies or property in hazardous conditions. A secondary - and very significant - factor was the limitation of UK Health and Safety regulations which restrict human diving operations to a depth of around 40 meters. This meant that victims who perished at depths deeper than this were, in some cases, not recoverable; they could not be returned to their loved ones.
The Seabotix unit, however, turned out to be a source of constant frustration. Frequent failures - often when needed during an emergency - meant that it could not be relied upon. In public safety, reliability for tools of this nature is critical. In order to perform at maximum efficiency, standard procedures and techniques must be adhered to. There is no place for equipment which "might work this time." Despite the fact that the donation included no cost factory support and repairs, the lack of confidence in the Seabotix meant that it was of little use in many emergencies or recovery operations.
Around the time that the Seabotix was donated, a new underwater equipment specialist firm was founded near the Grampian headquarters in Aberdeen, Scotland. Ian MacDonald and his wife Sandie formed Buccaneer Ltd. (www.buccaneer-ltd.co.uk) to provide equipment and expertise for underwater investigation and operations, both offshore and inland waterways. Ian had developed considerable expertise in the use of Remotely Operated Vehicles, Sonar imaging, Positioning Systems, and other tools of the underwater industry during his 14 years at Kongsberg Simrad. He saw a need for a small, highly specialized firm to spread technology - much of it new and unproven at the time - among the many firms in Scotland with underwater challenges.
Also, at this time, a new underwater vehicle from Pennsylvania in the U.S. was beginning to gain a significant following. The smallest and most portable vehicle available - the submersible is around 4 kg and the entire system around 35kg - it became very popular with search and recovery teams such as the Grampian underwater search team. VideoRay needed a representative in Aberdeen, and launched a search for a company with the necessary quality and expertise to represent them. Buccaneer came highly recommended, and was appointed a representative in 2003.
From Buccaneer's beginnings, Grampian police have been a major client. Buccaneer provided several scanning sonars, most of which had custom fabricated deployment devices designed specifically to Grampian's requirements and deployment vehicles. This gave Buccaneer an opportunity to discuss upgrading the donated ROV to a more reliable and advanced unit. In late 2007, an opportunity was afforded for Buccaneer and VideoRay to prove their claims.
A demonstration VideoRay was provided to Grampian over a period of several months, along with instruction from Buccaneer in its use. During this period, the dive team conducted several operations where they simulated the conditions and challenges of body recovery. These were conducted on rivers and lochs in the Grampian region, and the open sea, in the vicinity of previous tragedies. In each case, Buccaneer provided instruction and expertise and the best way to deploy the equipment. During these exercises, Grampian personnel built up confidence in the VideoRay, and their ability to effectively use it.
During the evaluation period, three underwater tragedies occurred where the demonstration VideoRay was successfully deployed. The first was in Montrose Marina, where Grampian was asked to search for a yacht sailor missing from his vessel.
The search involved the use of their Mesotech sonar to identify underwater targets that might have been the missing person, and their VideoRay to check out each target in order to either confirm the body location or to rule it out. The search was successful, proving that the victim was not in the search area, despite severe challenges during the search from boat traffic and objects on the bottom that mimicked the victim's size and shape.
The second was the lost fishing vessel Ellie May which went down September, 2007 off the coast of Banff. Air sea searches had proved fruitless, and a debris field did not materialize. However, a local fisherman reported that he had snagged his prawn nets in an area that previously had been clear. Grampian deployed their team from a local fishing vessel. The searchers were fortunate that their first dive with the VideoRay placed it directly above the Ellie May. The ROV team performed an extensive visual survey of the vessel, determining that the victim was inside the wheelhouse. The recovery of the body was handled by divers who had all of the information on where the victim was located - the video from the ROV allowed them to develop and implement a plan that worked rapidly and safely. After the victim was removed, the Marine Accident Investigations Board (MAIB) contracted with a local commercial dive team, which used their VideoRay to provide additional survey information. This information was used to determine the cause of the fatal sinking.
The third use of the VideoRay ROV was a fatal dive accident by recreational divers on the Konig, a WWI German high seas fleet ship that was scuttled in 1917 and now rests in an advanced state of deterioration. It is very unsafe for divers to enter, and a diver who disregarded this perished in late October. He had penetrated the wreck by around 40 meters, and was unable to find his way out before his air supply was depleted. Grampian has successfully penetrated the wreck from multiple locations around 25 meters, but has not yet located the victim. Additional attempts are planned as time and circumstances allow.
These successes resulted in the approval of budget for a new VideoRay Pro 3 GTO system for the team. The system was delivered in January 2008, and has been put into regular service. Now that a reliable unit is available to them, Grampian expects to deploy it often, both in the Grampian region and in support of neighboring forces.