The Magazine for Underwater Professionals
Robert Holland, who was known as ‘Dutchy’ to his friends and colleagues, died in a hospice in Houston, Texas, USA, on Christmas Day, 2015. He was 84.
Widely admired as a larger-than-life character with an immense knowledge of both military and professional civilian diving and good leadership skills, Dutchy started his diving career in the Royal Navy as a hard hat standard diver and qualified as a Diver Second Class (D2) at the RN Diving School at Chatham in 1955. He was among the last of the Divers First Class (D1s) to qualify ‘deep’ in HMS Reclaim before being ‘converted’ to a mixture-breathing self-contained clearance diver soon afterwards.
During the 1960s he was the coxswain and chief diver of the Home Station clearance diving team embarked in HMS Dingley. He also ran the Royal Navy’s 75-metre air diving/saturation diving team and instructed officers on the 1968 Minewarfare and Clearance Diving long course.
In 1970 he was one of the first three RN divers to achieve the newly-instituted rank of Fleet Chief Petty Officer Diver (FCPO(D)), the equivalent of Warrant Officer First Class in the other services.
After leaving the Royal Navy in the mid-1970s Dutchy worked in the offshore industry where he continued to keep the Royal Navy advised on the latest developments in deep diving, particularly those associated with equipment. He was also of great assistance during RN trials with the ‘JIM’ atmospheric diving suit in connection with submarine rescue, both locally in the UK and off Malta.
However, it was in the safety of manned underwater operations that Dutchy made his greatest contribution after joining Oceaneering International. To put this in its proper context: in the commercial world this was a time of rapid expansion in subsea work in support of North Sea oil and gas operations. Although there were some UK-based contractors, most of the activity was in the hands of overseas-based companies using their own nationally-based divers with techniques and kit developed largely for Gulf of Mexico operations. These subsequently proved unsuitable for northern North Sea operations and, after a number of fatalities, the governments of the UK and Norway called on both contractors and operating companies to significantly improve the standard of safety of offshore activity as a whole, but manned underwater operations in particular. Thus the formation of the UK Department of Energy’s Petroleum Production Diving Inspectorate under ‘Jackie’ Warner (before it came under the auspices of the Health & Safety Executive) and the similar group in the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.
As Oceaneering’s highly respected safety director, Dutchy became prominent in the Association of Diving Contractors (AODC) and greatly assisted in the formulation of the subsequent regulations. He was also a founder member of the European Diving Technology Committee (EDTC). This was formed under the auspices of the EU to coordinate the regulation of diving safety on a wider international basis. The oilfield operating companies had formed their own underwater operational safety groups which also co-operated with the inspectorates within their areas and internationally through available forums. His common sense approach, technical knowledge and sense of humour proved invaluable in often difficult negotiations between commercial offshore interests, government bodies and the diving community at large.
With the spread of offshore operations worldwide, the principles he established in those pioneering days are continuing to contribute to the safety of manned subsea operations. In the opinion of many, they are a wonderful legacy from Dutchy and a lasting testimony to him and his work. A memorial service was held for Dutchy at the Magnolia Funeral Home in Houston on 4 January 2016.