Swimming crawl-style up and down a 35-meter long pool, potential salvage divers from the Cambodian Mine Action Center have clearly come a long way since taking their first swimming lessons less than two weeks ago.
But the 35 men who signed up for a special swimming and scuba diving program will have to train hard to eventually get into the country’s first salvage diving unit—tasked with recovering hundreds of thousands of tons of explosives sunk in Cambodia’s rivers during the 1960’s and ’70s—said Allen Tan, general manager for Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, which is providing the training.
“They are doing really good,” Mr. Tan said, who watched as a group of men were taught how to use a snorkel.
The potential recruits were taking a test on Thursday, before going on to Sihanoukville to be trained in scuba diving next week. Eventually, Golden West hopes to have about four graduates, who will then undergo further training from U.S. Army salvage divers, courtesy of the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Arms and Abatement.
The test will include a 200-meter swim, a 300-meter swim with flippers and masks, and a 10-meter underwater swim. The most difficult part, however, will be a blindfold test—to prepare for the zero visibility divers will encounter in the Tonle Sap.
“[The purpose] is so they get used to operating without their vision in a 3-D environment, so we lay out ropes and different objects…and the students will have to navigate without their sight,” Mr. Tan said.
Fifteen of the hopefuls will not make it onto the team however, including 45-year-old Chhun Chhen, an explosive ordnance disposal expert who has worked in Preah Vihear and Siem Reap province but gave up this week due to a medical condition.
“At first, I liked the course so much and I trained and practiced a lot, but it’s more difficult for me than other people. I didn’t want to quit, but I had a surgery and the cold water hurts,” Mr. Chhen said, panting.