The Royal Navy’s explosive ordnance clearance divers have said farewell to their commanding officer as he departs to an operational tour in the Middle East.
Lieutenant Commander Al Nekrews has handed over command of Plymouth-based Southern Diving Unit 1 and Portsmouth Southern Diving Unit 2, (together the Southern Diving Group – SDG). Al, from the North West of England, assumed command of the SDG in August 2014. He has worked on Afghan combat operations and on protecting the London Olympics.
Al said: “Although I’m moving onto a huge challenge which I’m looking forward to, it’s a truly sad to leave the diving group. The people are the most fantastic and inspiring professionals. They are a truly great team, both here in Plymouth and in Portsmouth.’’
Al is well qualified to succeed in his new job having become the first Royal Navy Clearance Diver (predominantly Army) to pass the ‘high-threat’ IEDD operator course. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 as part of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal & Search Task Force protecting allied forces from hidden explosive devices in the notorious Helmand Province fighting the Taliban. He was awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for defusing lethal devices.
Al joined the Royal Navy aged 16 as a rating in 1989, initially serving as an air engineer in 819 and 771 Naval Air Squadrons. He then qualified as a physical trainer, serving in HMS Exeter, conducting armed boarding operations in the Northern Arabian Gulf in 1999.
In 2002 he became an officer at Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and was awarded the Queen‘s Sword as top student of his year. He served in HMS Sandown and as diving officer in HMS Cumberland, conducting counter-drugs operations in the Caribbean.
In 2006 he attended the Mine Warfare and Clearance Diving Officer course, winning the Superintendant of Diving Prize as top student. His first appointment was as the operations officer in HMS Chiddingfold, deploying to the Middle East for Operation clearing mines in the Northern Arabian Gulf.
Following a tour as second-in-command he was officer in charge of Southern Diving Unit 2 in Portsmouth; here he further qualified in IEDD and led the tactical planning of protection for London Olympics.
In 2013 he was appointed as the first Royal Navy officer to be Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Intelligence lead on Defence Intelligence – Land. His responsibilities included leading foreign munitions exploitation projects. He also led a study to define the threat from IEDs in the maritime environment.
Al is Vice Chairman of the Clearance Divers Association.
The units are familiar sights to the public with their blue-light vehicles covering over 1,400 miles of coastline providing military diving and explosive ordnance disposal aid – responding as an emergency service to police and coastguard requests.
The divers provide improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD) support in the SE and SW of the UK and help repair and maintain RN vessels, in the UK and abroad.