Joint diving operations involving different EU Member States’ navies are almost impossible because up till now, there are no common diving standards that would even allow a diving team from one country to refill their air tanks from another country’s replenishment station – simply because air quality standards vary from one Member State to another. The same applies to navies’ operational diving concepts: some operate with having one ship diver in the water on a fixed line and a supervisor to guide him, while others rely on the so-called ‘buddy system’ where there are always two divers checking each other’s safety in the water. Medical standards, training requirements and material also strongly vary. 

This has led to a severe shortage in ships and rescue divers which, however, are indispensable assets in every national or international naval operation. While smaller EU countries find it difficult to train sufficient divers on their own due to a lack of resources and training facilities, larger navies’ often find themselves overstretched by emergency requests for diving squads after incidents such as the sinking of the Norwegian Frigate Helge Instad in November 2018 (after a collision with a merchant ship) or the sinking of the MS Concordia cruise liner in January 2012 off the Italian coast.

Naval Training Support Study  

To increase interoperability and enable cooperation in this field, EDA’s Project Team Naval Training launched a ‘Naval Training Support Study’ (NTSS) in 2012, focused on three aspects: navigation training, naval mine warfare, and diving training. The aim of this study, the results of which were presented in 2014, was to provide a landscape of existing capabilities, propose possible common requirements, derive shortfalls based on a gap analysis, and propose recommendations to solve them.

As regards Diving Training, the study made several recommendations, including to establish a doctrine concerning military diving (starting with air/ship diver), to establish a shared diving regulation to meet the operational needs, to standardise training and operational qualification criteria and to have a common certification process for diving centres. A follow-up to the NTSS study (phase 2) was commissioned in 2017 and completed in December 2017. It delivered, among others, a comprehensive set of data and analyses of Member States’ national diving standards, a common requirements list for ship divers and minimum qualification standards for military divers. The results were presented to EDA’s Project Team Naval Training in January 2018.

  • © Austrian Bundesheer

EU certified training module for ship and rescue divers 

Based on the extended NTSS study and the conclusions of a diving workshop held in La Spezia (Italy) in September 2017, EDA launched a new project in spring 2018 in order to design and conduct a course module to harmonise European ship diving and ship-based rescue diving standards and practices. The overall objective is the identification, recognition and mutual certification of common EU military diving standards.

Showcase event held in Toulon

As part of that ongoing project, and in order to test and confirm the practical implications involved in joint diving training and operation, an EDA ‘showcase event’ was held on 3 April 2019 in the harbour of St. Mandrier, near Toulon (France). Four diving teams from Germany, Spain, Poland and Romania participated in this exercise, as well as high ranking naval officers from Bulgaria, France, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Poland and Romania. The aim was to conduct joint interventions under real conditions based on realistic naval incident scenarios and to demonstrate how the proposed common standards would successfully work in practice.

As an example: Romanian and Polish divers worked hand in hand to recover an anchor while Spanish and a German diving team jointly inspected a frigate’s hull and performed repair work on a pier using heavy underwater welding equipment. The practical part of the event was complemented by a static display of different equipment and procedures ashore.

The in and out of water demonstration of interoperable diving teams from different Member States applying proposed common standards was hailed as a great success by all participants. EDA’s Project Team Naval Training was encouraged to continue promoting the identified standards and seek their swift endorsement by EU Member States as a next step. 

Participants of the showcase event concluded that the identification of common diving standards is a perfect example of how Member States can strengthen their defence capabilities and make them interoperable at a low cost, for the benefit of everybody. In attendance on the day, Commodore Malone, Flag Officer Commanding the Irish Naval Service, commented that “EU common diving standards will facilitate greater Pooling & Sharing of diving training across Member States, while enhancing interoperability”.

Once the standards are endorsed, the next step would be to create a pilot course for ship divers open to Member States’ trainees to achieve a common certification recognised in all participating Member States.


In the meantime, Bulgaria, Greece and France launched a PESCO project aimed at setting up a ‘Deployable Modular Underwater Intervention Capability Package’ (DIVEPACK). The objective is to develop an interoperable specialised modular asset for full spectrum defensive underwater intervention operations in expeditionary setting. The DIVEPACK unit will integrate a wide range of diving and unmanned underwater vehicles materiel, operated by qualified personnel, in a comprehensive capability package. Its mission tailorable open architecture ‘plug-and-play’ concept will facilitate the versatility of response in the framework of EU CSDP operations and will provide a quick reaction capability, applicable to a broad range of underwater scenarios, both at sea and in inland waters.

Furthermore Romania, Bulgaria and France have launched the PESCO project ‘European Union Network of Diving Centres’ in order to optimise the use of training capacities, harmonise training requirements and course syllabuses.

  • Publishing Director Elisabeth Schoeffmann
  • Editor-in-chief Helmut Brüls
  • Editorial Take out
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