Secrets of the Deep: Scientific Exploration in the ROV Industry

Other than the usual cable lay or pipe line inspection some of Atlas’ personnel have been a part of modern history’s greatest scientific explorations and Atlas’ ROV Supervisor Will Handley is one of those lucky few.

An Early Interest in Technology

“I always had an interest in working offshore and when I left the Navy in 1983 I decided to progress into the offshore industry. I think the most challenging aspect about being an ROV supervisor is keeping the ROV system running and making sure that the electronics don’t mix with salt water. Once I was working on a project where we had to observe glaciers on the Antarctic Peninsula and we had to pour hot water over the pod on deck before the dive to get it warm enough to boot up the electronics. It’s on projects like these where you have to think on your feet a little bit and use your own initiative.”

Search for Liberty Bell 7

In 1961, the suborbital Project Mercury was the second human spaceflight planned by NASA. The craft’s space capsule was named the Liberty Bell 7 and was launched at Cape Canaveral. The flight lasted 15 minutes and was going according to plan until just after splashdown when the capsule’s hatch unexpectedly exploded and sunk the Liberty Bell 7 into the Atlantic.

“I was looking after the cameras and lights on the Magellan 725 ROV during the search for Liberty Bell 7. It was an eerie sight to see the capsule loom out of the darkness and stood upright on the seabed.”

The craft was piloted by Gus Grissom one of the astronauts who was tragically killed in the Apollo 1 fire. The Liberty Bell 7 now resides at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center.

Other interesting projects Will has taken part in include the wreck surveys for the German battleship The Bismarck and HMS Hood, an operation that was funded by ITN and Channel 4 for their documentary “Hood v Bismarck.” In 2002, Will was also part of the wreck survey team for the fishing vessel Gaul that sunk off the coast of Norway in 1974.

Working in the Current Climate

With oil prices dominating the headlines, Will has seen first-hand how the downturn has affected the ROV industry. “I know a number of my colleagues who haven’t worked since August 2014. In Aberdeen there are practically tumbleweeds blowing down the street; the industry has let go of so many good guys which is a real shame. The thing is with the offshore industry you are only as good as your last job and in times like these just having a CV isn’t enough.

I don’t usually work through agencies but I have been very lucky working with Atlas as they have been keeping me busy. It’s hard to keep yourself appealing to clients during a downturn however, it has been commented on in the past that clients like the references that Atlas provide as it adds more credit to my CV. In the ROV industry you need to have strong technical skills, be hard-working and always be prepared for the unpredictable.”