Public Safety Divers Train On Sunken Shrimp Boat

Law enforcement dive teams spent Wednesday afternoon pulling up pieces of a sunken shrimp boat just off Petit Bois island.

The commercial fishing boat sank last November.

Divers from the Department of Marine Resources and Biloxi Police Department used the salvage site as a training tool.

"You're fine. It's deeper off where you're at," said an officer on a boat, as he directed the divers.

Two teams of public safety divers spent nearly two hours in the 56 degree water. Recovering pieces from a sunken shrimp boat helps clean the environment and lets the divers sharpen their underwater skills.

Richard Cooley is team leader for the Department of Marine Resources divers.

"The safety is the biggest concern. Safety. You don't want to go past your decompression levels. With public safety diving we should never be at that level," he explained.

"Are we moving the wall more and more?," asked one diver, as the team worked on recovering parts of the shrimp boat.

Diving a sunken fishing boat for training purposes will better prepare the officers for the real thing. They answer the kind of call that often involves tragedy on the water.

"Drownings, as with all the rest of the dive teams. Also, specifically if there's a boating accident involving fatalities, evidence, bodies. We'd also be looking for the evidence involved in a boating accident," Cooley explained.

The waters off Petit Bois are relatively clear. But imagine working an underwater investigation in the brackish water of Back Bay, where visibility is virtually non existent. There the challenge becomes learning to search by touch.

"It's just, the more you practice, the more you learn," said the team leader.

Team members on boats direct the divers to help locate and pull things from the water. Since several agencies may be working together, teamwork is another training goal.

"The more you keep it up, the easier it is to keep your diving skills up, your buoyancy. You don't want to get disoriented when you're under the water," said Cooley.

It was a productive afternoon near the offshore island. One hour fifty five minutes in the water prepared the team for a real life call that could come any time.

The DMR dive team was organized last summer. Wednesday's training session included three divers from DMR and three from the Biloxi Police Department.