For more than 40 years, Northern Divers (ENG) Ltd operated out of a majestic building overlooking the River Hull, not far from what has now become one of the city’s most recognisable landmarks, The Deep.
In 2010 the company moved to new premises on the Sutton Fields industrial estate but although their surroundings were new, the heritage and vast experience of the marine specialists remained. And their reputation as one of Europe’s most well-known and respected underwater civil engineering and commercial diving companies has continued to grow.
Managing director John Sparrowe joined what was his father’s business as a young man and has developed it into a world-class company covering underwater civil engineering, commercial diving, inland and coastal work, harbour and dock maintenance, salvage, sluice/gate maintenance structural inspections and repairs, windfarm operations, hydrographical surveys, bridge inspections and pipeline installations, to name but a few of their services.
Hull electrical engineering experts Pearson Electrical felt honoured when Northern Divers asked them to take care of the wiring for their new work boat, the MV Anne-Marie.
A high-stakes game
Wiring a boat with such a specialist job to do – in often hazardous situations – requires particular attention to detail. Not only does the vessel need to work effectively. It must also keep the divers using it, safe. Pearson Electrical MD Mark Pearson describes just what that entails.
“Essentially, we re-wired the MV Anne-Marie to bring it into line with work boat regulations, rather than the pleasure boat standards it reflected previously.
“We also installed back-up systems for life support and communications, for maximum safety.
“Because the divers using the boat have to work in potentially hazardous situations, we have to make sure that – if the main electrical system fails – there’s a secondary one that can take over.
“For example, if the divers are in the water, we need to ensure the crew can get them back into a safe situation, so that they can attend to the vessel.
“We document all of our work under our ISO9001 accreditation. We create a paper trail for protection and traceability if there are ever any problems, providing commercial shipping operators like Northern Divers with extra peace of mind.”
Built for the job
The 14-metre long MV Anne-Marie dive vessel has been designed specifically for Northern Divers, for a multitude of commercial uses in environments where minimal maintenance, reliability and safety are paramount. Its incredible strength makes it virtually indestructible and unsinkable, and the ideal solution for river and sea working environments, where a stable and reliable working platform is essential.
“This vessel is a crucial part of our kit so it’s important that the electrics are absolutely spot on,” said John Sparrowe. “I had seen some work the Pearson Electrical team were doing on a vessel for another marine company and was really impressed with them.
“The quality of their workmanship was clear, they are well qualified and highly professional, and I knew they were the right people to wire my boat.”
John added: “It’s the first time I’ve worked with the Pearson team but it won’t be the last. Electrical safety is so important as, done wrong, it can be a serious fire risk. I know we’re in safe hands with Pearson.”
Once launched, the MV Anne-Marie will be put to work on the River Humber, helping to keep the waters clear and minimise the flood risk to the city, and she will also be venturing out on sea inspections around the burgeoning North Sea wind farms.
Performing delicate operations
The revamped MV Anne-Marie is likely to have a rich and varied time in commission, as John and his team never know, from one day to the next, what kind of job they will be called out to. One particularly poignant example that stands out in his memory was a very sombre experience in the English Channel.
“A large salvage company, Titan, requested our help back in 2007 on a major job commissioned by Trinity House. A German World War I submarine had sunk in the river channel in April 1918, and had become a hazard to the shipping lanes due to vessels being larger and deeper drafted.
“We needed to move it to deeper water, but we had to be mindful that there might be ammunitions on board. We also had to be very respectful of the fact that this was in effect a war grave, as 23 German men had perished on board the U-boat when she went down,” John added. “It took a lot of planning but the two-month long operation was a success and we managed to carefully lift and move the sub a couple of metres above the seabed for about 11 miles using a heavy crane barge.” This solemn reminder of the Great War is now resting undisturbed in deeper water within the Channel.
Service built on reputation
Northern Divers was founded in 1963 to provide a wide range of underwater services to the civil engineering and marine industries, public utilities and harbour authorities. The company has been involved with many national and international projects, in addition to providing inspection, repair and maintenance services to a wide range of clients including international contractors, overseas governments, local authorities, shipping and insurance companies.
“We do a lot of work with Associated British Ports and renowned companies across the globe in marine salvage, environmental projects, shipping, pipeline construction, and wind turbine farms,” said John.
So how has a relatively small enterprise from Hull become such a global success? John believes it’s all in the quality and reliability of service: “Clients choose us because we have an excellent reputation in the marine and diving industry and can demonstrate such a wide range of experience, as well as being innovative and flexible. We have nevertheless remained a small, friendly and very honest company. Every job big or small presents a different challenge and we give it our best every single time.”