Buddies dive deep into new venture
COMMERCIAL diving may appear the glamour job with at times "rock star” pay and the ability to secure jobs in exotic locations all over the world.
The reality however is considerably harsher, can require hours slogging away in zero visibility, working by touch in often bitterly cold water taking hours to complete tasks which on land can be quickly and easily completed.
And it's a job that comes with dangers able to kill or maim in a moment as the price for failure to adhere to the discipline required to stay alive when working at depth under the enormous pressures the body endures in that environment.
Ryan Springall and Mark Veal bring decades of experience to their first business venture - ABCO Commercial Diving - their skill sets born through lifetimes spent on and under water.
Ryan holds a world spear fishing record and has 20 years' experience diving for abalone in the cold waters off Phillip Island in Victoria where he still holds a quota and maintains a dive vessel.
Mark grew up in Mudjimba, building a knowledge of the oceans catching bombs off Old Woman Island before joining the Australian Army's aviation arm as a an aircraft maintenance engineer.
Those skills would six years later lead first to a job with British Aerospace and then on direct contract with the Sultan of Oman where he battled drug smugglers attempting to infiltrate the country through the Straits of Hormuz and also on the border with Yemen.
It was an intense work environment that involved border conflicts and directed by Royal decree policy to shoot to kill drug smugglers on sight.
"We opened fire and sunk boats,” Mark said of the job in a country he enjoyed despite the stark contrast with the quiet coastal village in which he grew up.
After six years his eyes were opened to different opportunities when the British army lost a helicopter off a boat during an exercise and brought in a saturation dive team to salvage it.
"They were at the peak of their game, earning rock star wages” Mark said.
Deciding he wanted a piece of that action he returned to Australia, securing his qualifications at college on Tasmania's Tamar River then worked a year on jobs in the murky waters of the Brisbane River.
Then, saturation ticket in hand, he signed on with the US-based McDermotts International working everywhere from the Middle East to Russia and the Asia Pacific rim spending up to 30 days at a time in a pressurised chamber on the back of a dive vessel, emerging only at depths to work for eight to 10 hours a day at up to 300 metres below the surface.
If he worked at 100 metres down he lived in the chamber at pressure that simulated those forces. He would share the confined space with fellow divers all reliant on those operating the equipment for their lives.
Ryan came to pressurised commercial diving from the abalone business and quota his father passed on to him.
He grew up on the Sunshine Coast since he was five with his parents first buying a holiday home in Maroochydore and then basing here permanently.
As an abalone diver it was a case of throw on a wetsuit and jump in the water working at depths of only 20 metres for six to seven hours at a time. When disease hit the industry and quotas were halved he went to Western Australia to secure a commercial ticket as a construction and inspection diver.
Ryan's world record was for a 37kg Spanish mackerel speared while free diving off Old Woman Island as an 18-year-old.
Mark only recently quit the saturation dive industry. He was rocked by an incident on the Impex Project on the North West Shelf which left nine of a team of 13 colleagues with symptoms of brain damage after they were descended too quickly to depth.
Ryan approached him wanting to do something locally. They approached the then owners of ABCO to see if they were interested in selling and haven't looked back.
The business encompasses everything from weed control to construction, dam inspections for SEQWater on projects like the Lake Macdonald and Ewen Maddock dam upgrades, strapping super yachts and commercial vessels ahead of them being lifted from the water to dock, salvage inspections, under water concreting and jack hammering.
Mark also supervised the recovery of the ill-fated trawler Dianne which sank north of Yeppoon.
Out of the water their sunny, relaxed dispositions bely the razor-sharp discipline and skill sets that have kept them alive in even the most hostile of environments.