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The first official operations of the new fully functional hyperbaric chamber platform at Mandela University’s Ocean Sciences Campus recently took place, when two separate 30m chamber orientation dives were carried out for six Class III and Class IV trainee commercial divers. 

“There has not been a functional hyperbaric chamber in the Eastern Cape for a number of years, which presented a significant risk to scientific, recreational and commercial diving in the region” says Sean Bailey, the Senior Technician at SAEON’s (South African Earth Observation Network) Elwandle Coastal Node.

The University’s Shallow Marine and Coastal Research Infrastructure (SMCRI) initiative, funded by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI), acquired the platform and installed in the H-Block wing of the Ocean Sciences Campus.  

This platform is to 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 chamber on campus is hosted as part of a strategic partnership between the University, the NRF (in particular SAEON) and the DSI. 

Aside from fulfilling its primary function as an emergency treatment facility for decompression sickness (DCS), the platform will also be used for recreational 50m 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 regarding nitrogen narcosis and vocal effects at depth. 

Work-up dives can also be carried out by diving staff that have not dived for extended periods, where their bodies are able to become re-acclimatised to pressure in a safe and controlled environment and therefore better able to cope with depth on planned deep dives. 

Another feature is the effective pressure testing of equipment designed for underwater use.

More staff will soon be trained as operators and supervisors to ensure that the chamber can be sustainably maintained on a permanent standby basis and until such time as this training is done, the platform will remain available for diving emergencies provided that 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.

Left, Sean Bailey, Senior Technician at SAEON and right, Imtiyaaz Malick, oceanographic technician and chamber operator. 

Contact information
Mrs Liza Rishworth
Office Manager
Tel: 27 41 504 2852