Autumn 2020

Roger Chapman, the grandfather of submarine rescue

Roger Chapman holds legendary status in the history of James Fisher. His unparalleled knowledge and expertise in submarine rescue formed the foundation for JFD’s now world-renowned submarine rescue capability, and it is with great sadness that we learned of his death on 24 January, at the age of 74. 

Roger was a highly qualified Royal Navy submariner who worked as navigator of HMS Swiftsure. However, in 1973 deteriorating eyesight forced him to leave the service, and he left to work for Vickers Oceanics in Barrow-in-Furness, where he operated and maintained Pisces Manned Submersibles. He went on to establish Sub Sea Surveys Ltd, which introduced the first UK all-electric ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle), establishing the work class ROV as an offshore tool, and later Rumic, which was acquired by the James Fisher group.   

He will always be remembered for being at the centre of one of the most dramatic international rescues in history, which happened nearly 50 years ago during his time at Vickers Oceanics.   

On the 29 August 1973 Roger Chapman, then 28, and his colleague, Roger Mallinson, 35, began a routine dive in a Pisces III submersible. They were working 150 miles south west of Cork in Southern Ireland laying a transatlantic telephone cable. The job entailed an eight-hour shift in the six-foot diameter submersible. At the end of their shift, as the submersible was ready to be lifted out of the water and towed back to the ship, the towline caught on a hatch door, wrenching it open and causing it to invert and sink to the seabed 480m below with both men on board.  

A rescue mission began and 76 hours later, Pisces III emerged from the water, with both pilots still alive but with only 12 minutes of oxygen left. Their plight made headlines across the world and Roger wrote a detailed account of the ordeal in his book No Time On Our Side.   

He formed Rumic to pioneer a new generation of manned and unmanned submersibles to provide subsea services and operations to the offshore and defence industries.  

As a direct result of the Pisces III rescue, rapid development and progression of submarine rescue solutions have occurred with many navies around the world employing these new methods. Roger, who leant his expertise to assist crews in several incidents involving submersibles over the years, was honoured by President Vladimir Putin and appointed CBE in recognition of his achievements in the field of submarine rescue and the development of deep sea submersible technology.  In 2005, Rumic was acquired by the James Fisher group to form the core of a new division, latterly becoming JFD.  

‘Roger was a mentor and a dear friend to many, not only within JFD, but in the wider submarine community. An inspirational leader, he is remembered as being kind, funny and fantastic company,’

says John Paul McCarroll, Commercial Director at JFD.

‘For Roger, not only were improving safety and pushing boundaries important, but fun was a key ingredient of success and happiness. We will remember Roger fondly and maintain the values that he held dear in everything we continue to do to protect the lives of submariners at sea.’  

  

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