With a title such as this there is a great temptation to venture back into the annals of history to the Greek breath-hold divers, William Phip's use of an open-bottom bell for salvage in 1687 to the more recent days of the invention of the hard hat and Haldane's pioneering work in stage decompression. However, as much as our industry owes to the pioneer salvors, builders and scientists of the distant past, the real history of the commercial subsea industry has been written over the past two decades. With minor exceptions our industry is built upon the development of offshore oil (Fig. I), and although the first successful open water well was drilled in the Gulf of Mexico in 1947, the emergence of our industry really began in the early 1960s.

Within the constraints of this paper the author will endeavour to identify the major trends and developments in the undersea industry over the past twenty years which have laid the foundation of today's significant global industry. With few exceptions, ‘firsts’ will not be identified with individuals or companies since, as in many industries, successful work followed parallel paths indifferent parts of the world and often pioneering activities by some were commercialized by others. These points may be best argued by the old hands in the bar!

(Fig1.1 is available in full paper)


The origins of the American industry may be traced primarily to the early requirements of the offshore oil industry in Louisiana, Texas and California for limited subsea intervention. In Europe the foundations were established in scientific, military and inshore construction activities. The founders of the business began in many ways - abalone diving, pier and harbour work, marine salvage - and many had received their training from the world's navies. Few had the extensive formal educations that would be helpful in the future in managing the multimillion dollar enterprises which they would found, but all were entrepreneurs with strong personal drive, an abiding personal sensitivity for the subsea domain, and a sense of adventure. Most were undercapitalized in an industry that would ultimately be noted for its capital intensity, but with pick-up trucks, old air compressors, hard hats, early lightweight equipment, scuba gear, the odd decompression chamber, technology gleaned from the navy and little or no money in the bank, they set out to meet the needs of the offshore oil industry. Unlike the early aviation pioneers, many of the founders of our industry are still among us - Murray Black, Mike Hughes, Henri Delauze, Lad Handleman, Dan Wilson, Andre Galerne, Dick Evans - to name just some. A few companies, like Ocean Systems, were established by large corporations, but the vast majority were begun by individuals with the help of a few close colleagues.

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