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James Fisher Defence marks 40th anniversary of Pisces III Rescue

Posted by Grahamne Muir

Incident captured worldwide attention for 84 hours and led to the development of advanced subsea rescue solutions now employed by many navies

James Fisher Defence (JFD), the leading global sub-sea rescue, operations and engineering company, today marked the 40th anniversary of the famous rescue of the submersible vessel Pisces III from 1575 feet below the sea, the world’s deepest successful subsea rescue in history. The event, which captured global attention for three days, also led to the establishment of Rumic, subsequently JFD, and the development of advanced subsea rescue solutions that are in operation in many of the world’s navies today.

On 29th August 1973, Roger Chapman and his colleague Roger Mallinson were working on a charter for the Post Office burying underwater armoured telephone cables in the Atlantic, 150 miles off Cork in Southern Ireland. They were working in a two-man mini submersible Pisces III, operated from the mother ship Vickers Voyager. Following their fourth dive, while the towline was being attached to Pisces III as part of the standard recovery procedure to haul the submersible back to the mother ship, the aft sphere filled with water, making it incredibly heavy, snapping the cable and plunging the sub to the seabed.

What followed was the deepest subsea rescue in history led by Commander Peter Messervy, General Manager, Vickers Oceanics, and involving human resource and equipment from navies, air force and commercial organisations from Britain, the US, Canada and Ireland. The global media continually reported on the incident, and scrutinised developments over the next three days, as the world waited to see if they would survive. After 84 hours, and with just 12 minutes of oxygen left, they were eventually rescued.

Roger Chapman, rescued submariner explains:

“The physical and mental impact of being trapped was extraordinary; the silence; every drop that fell on your face and wondering whether it was condensation or seawater that would signal a leak; little food and water; and the slowly declining oxygen gauge that became our clock and defined the time we had left. Despite this, our experience taught us tolerance and patience, supplemented by the knowledge that the people tasked with rescuing us would work incessantly night and day until all hope had passed or success had been achieved.”

Chapman continues:

“I am also proud that the Pisces III incident led to the rapid development and progression of subsea rescue solutions, which are now employed by many navies around the world.”

Following the Pisces III rescue Roger Chapman founded the company Rumic, providing subsea services and operations to the offshore and defence industries, and was awarded the contract to operate the UK Submarine Rescue Service (UKSRS). The company modified and upgraded the original LR5 diver lock-out submersible into a submarine rescue vessel and created the HY-80 steel hull, which drove further progression including the provision of Transfer Under Pressure capability. Rumic was involved in some of the most high profile rescue incidents, including being mobilised to the sinking of the Kursk on behalf of the Royal Navy, as well as playing a central role in successfully rescuing the Russian submarine Priz.

Following this, Rumic was acquired by James Fisher and Sons and became known as James Fisher Defence (JFD), one of the leading subsea rescue, operations and engineering companies in the world. JFD has since pioneered innovation within the industry, developing and implementing solutions for many of the world’s navies, including the Royal Navy, the Singapore, South Korean and Australian navies, as well as providing specialist operators and pilots for the NATO rescue submarine service.

Ben Sharples, managing director, James Fisher Defence comments:

“The Pisces III incident plays a central role in the history of JFD. It created the platform for the real development of subsea rescue solutions and the integration of complex, cradle-to-grave systems. It has also been a foundation for our values, which are driven and underpinned by a complete commitment to the safety of submariners and divers, a dedication to continual training and innovation, and ultimately saving lives.”


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In 2015 James Fisher Defence and Divex merged to form JFD.

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