Contraband - NZ Customs


Diving deeper as a Customs diver


Recently, James Powell, became one of two new additions to Customs’ Operational Dive Team after passing the Royal NZ Navy Defence Divers/Ships Divers course held at the Devonport Naval Base. James talked to Contraband about why he wanted to be part of this team and the challenges of getting there.

“I like a challenge,” says James, “And always strive to be the best that I can be. During my rotation with Response Group as a cohort, we visited the Devonport Naval Base where a diving course was being run, and I saw the candidates coming in from a ‘Mud Run’. From that point, I knew that the dive course would offer me the challenge I was looking for.”

After nearly six months of preparation, James arrived at HMNZS Philomel to start the Ships Divers/Defence Divers course.

Fitness was a key part of the assessment and required reaching level 9.5 on the beep test, six chin ups, 30 push ups, and 30 sit ups, followed by a 400 metre swim in under 8.5 minutes. Having achieved this, James was on his way to the ADAS Level 1 Construction Diver Qualifications.

"Interspersed with all the paperwork and diving were rigorous physical training sessions every morning,” says James.

“There was also a lot of motivational instruction which toughened both the body and mind, and reinforced the correct way of doing things.”

The course was certainly no walk in the park. The tempo increased steadily until week three — endurance week — where the participants worked longer hours, got little sleep, and dived as much as is allowed by the safety regulations. 

“The culmination was a day that started at 0430hrs and finished at 1700hrs the next day, with a re-run of the initial fitness test on the morning of the second day”      

“From this course, I gained not only the ability to dive, and a highly valued qualification, but also the confidence of having passed a challenging course — and a few battle scars too!”

Once he passed the course, James was inducted into the Customs Operational Dive Team. A Customs diver is on-call to conduct ship-hull searches, and other dive related tasks. The team also conducts training dives to ensure they remain up-to-date with their qualifications and efficient in their procedures.

Annually, Customs conducts a dive training week, enabling a period of concentrated diving, honing skills, and team-building.

“This week is possibly the highlight of being in the team,” says James “As it enables us to practice skills over an extended period, improving our process as we go, while enhancing our team cohesion. This is imperative as every time we dive, we have to be able to trust our team-mates with our lives.”

James (right) and fellow Customs diver Noki Lasika