8 Halifax Armed Forces members diving in Latvia to remove mines for Operation Open Spirit

Clearance divers with the Canadian Armed Forces are assisting in the disposal of removing explosive remnants of World War One and World War Two. Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Eight Canadian Armed Forces members of the fleet diving unit from Halifax, joined by two divers from Esquimalt, B.C. and one medical officer from Ottawa, have travelled to Latvia as part of a multinational mine clearance mission.

Called Operation Open Spirit, the NATO partnership works to remove explosive remnants of war from the Baltic Sea.

Lt.-Cmdr. Billy Barter said the operation rotates between the countries of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and the purpose is to remove the mines laid by the German and Russian troops during the First and Second World Wars.

For the crew from Halifax, he said they’re used to being around the world, but in the case of Open Spirit it is their fourth time taking part and Barter said how they operate has changed over the years.

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“It’s just refining our SOPs (standard operating procedures), our tactics and procedures in order to dive on the mines so we’re just getting more comfortable with the equipment the way that we search and identify the mines,” he said. “We’re getting a lot more comfortable with the interoperability between us and the NATO nations.”

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The operation puts Canadian personnel next to the Latvian Naval Flotilla and 13 other partner nations. It’s been hosted since 1997 by one of the three Baltic nations.

Barter recognizes the task is still a dangerous one, saying it adds more on top of the inherent danger of diving.

“You just have to be cautious and go back to your training and treat the mine with the respect that it deserves and just do things the way that our SOPs and techs teach us,” he said.

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