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Soldiers in shark ordeal

PUBLISHED: 13:10 06 March 2009 | UPDATED: 13:15 03 July 2010

ARMY engineers are launching an underwater shark attack - armed with nothing more than a sponge.

The team of 12 engineer divers are all swapping the dangers of southern Afghanistan for the dangers of the deep when they clean out the shark tank at The Sea Life Centre, in Great Yarmouth on Monday.

ARMY engineers are launching an underwater shark attack - armed with nothing more than a sponge.

The team of 12 engineer divers are all swapping the dangers of southern Afghanistan for the dangers of the deep when they clean out the shark tank at The Sea Life Centre, in Great Yarmouth on Monday.

The Army engineers, known as Sappers, are from the Diving Team of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), based at Rock Barracks, Sutton Heath, near Woodbridge and all served in Afghanistan for six months last summer. This time they will be swimming among black tip, nurse, and zebra sharks, as well as two large turtles.

Despite being better known in the Army for its parachuting prowess, 23 Engr Regt also has the largest diving team in the Corps of Royal Engineers, with 36 qualified divers within the Regiment. All except two of these are soldiers first, combat engineers second, tradesmen third and diving is a part-time skill so any opportunity to practice is taken.

One of the full-time divers is Sergeant Pete Donnelly, the Regimental Army Diving Supervisor, who arranged the cleaning of the tank.

Sgt Donnelly said he got the idea last year when he visited the Sea Life Centre for a day out with his wife, before he and the Regiment deployed to Afghanistan last April for six months.

“A couple of weeks ago I rang the Sea Life Centre and explained what we do as a diving team and said if you need any of your stuff sorting out, let me know”.

Christine Pitcher, Displays Supervisor at the Great Yarmouth Sea Life Centre told them they dive in the tank every month to carry out routine maintenance.

The team of twelve will take it in turns to dive in pairs to wash the glass and the medusa head, in the quarter of a million litre ocean display.

Sgt Donnelly said: “Sea Life are supplying the cleaning equipment of cloths and brushes, and probably a few toothbrushes for the corners. The whole team are looking forward to it, but I know one or two are a little bit apprehensive as they have never dived with sharks before.

“We are happy to be helping out in the local community and it also gives my divers the opportunity to dive with something they've never dived with before, and maybe puts them at ease if in the future they come across anything like this for real.”

Christine said: “We're happy to help out the Regiment with their training but asked them to help us out whilst they were in there with our 3 metre nurse sharks. We haven't told them yet exactly what the toothbrushes are for!”

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