#01 2021

SMCRI acquires a fully functioning new Hyperbaric Platform

By Sean Bailey, SAEON Elwandle Node, Ocean Sciences Campus, Nelson Mandela University

There has not been a functional hyperbaric chamber in the Eastern Cape for several years, presenting a significant risk to scientific, recreational and commercial diving in the region. To address this issue, the Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) initiative funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) acquired a fully functional new Hyperbaric Chamber Platform.

The Platform, which has been installed in the Nelson Mandela University’s new Ocean Science Campus in Port Elizabeth, will be used primarily for diving emergencies but also for scientific diver training (Class V and IV) by the research diver training school based at the university. The hosting of this chamber on the campus is part of a strategic partnership between the university, the National Research Foundation (in particular SAEON) and the DSI.

Aside from fulfilling its primary function as an emergency treatment facility for decompression sickness, the Platform will also serve the following functions:

  • Training – The chamber will be used to carry out training dives for trainee divers undergoing their diver training with the Research Diving Unit at Nelson Mandela University, once it is re-established.
  • Recreational 50-m introductory dives – These dives, carried out by either qualified or trainee recreational or commercial divers, introduce the divers to the physiological effects of high pressure on the body, particularly with regards to nitrogen narcosis and vocal effects at depth.
  • Work up dives – Work up dives can be carried out by diving staff that have not dived for extended periods, where their bodies are able to become reacclimatised to pressure in a safe and controlled environment and therefore better able to cope with depth on planned deep dives.
  • Equipment pressure testing – Equipment designed for underwater use can be effectively pressure tested in the chamber.

The first official operations of the facility took place in October 2020, where two separate 30-m chamber orientation dives were carried out for six Class III and Class IV trainee commercial divers from Jack’s Dive Chest.

More staff will soon be trained as operators and supervisors to ensure the chamber can be sustainably maintained on a 24/7 standby basis. Until such time as this training is done, the Platform will remain available for diving emergencies provided the limited operating staff are available.

Another potential future use of the facility may include hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) if an arrangement can be reached with a medical doctor willing to run the HBOT treatments.

The chamber comes complete with internal cameras, lighting, two-way communications, gas analysers that constantly monitor O2 and CO2 accumulation as well as internal CO2 scrubbing devices

The Platform will be used for scientific diver training (Class V and IV) by the research diver training school based at the university