CEO Newsletter March 2020


What a difference a few weeks can make – at the time of writing, much of the world is having to close down to help fight the COVID-19 outbreak, oil prices are falling to record lows, and we are all being reminded that despite all of our technology & engineering prowess, nature is still boss, and can wreak havoc when she wants to. Even the UK Prime Minister and Prince of Wales are infected, so it’s important that we all practice social distancing, good hygiene and follow all of the advice issued by our respective authorities.

So first let me thank all of our staff and volunteer supporters on committees, branches, and special interest groups all over the world who are continuing to work from home and online, as well as those isolated at sea on ships, submarines and offshore platforms, to continue the work of the Society for Underwater Technology as an international Learned Society for Marine Science, Engineering & Technology.

SUT was established to educate, inform and transfer knowledge about underwater technology to our members, peers, decision-makers, the general public, students & educators. We can still do those things by remote means in the coming months, using the range of online tools such as Zoom, Teams, Webex, Skype, and others to continue to work together.

Keep an eye on our social media feeds including SUT_news & SUT_events on Twitter, the feeds of our Branches, LinkedIn posts and the SUT website to stay up to date on news & events that we will be streaming online. We’re working to get our presence on YouTube back up to speed as well.

Our face-to-face meetings for networking, training and social interaction can wait until some sort of normality returns, in the meantime there’s still a lot we can do to engage with one another.

Prior to lockdown, our UK Branches (London & Southern England, North Eastern England & Aberdeen) had all been very active with a healthy programme of daytime and evening events, we look forward to resuming the programmes online and eventually in person as soon as possible.

Events & Training Courses

We had been very much looking forward to playing a key role throughout Oceanology International in London in March, supporting the conference programme by chairing sessions, providing speakers, and hosting side-events such as the women in industry session as part of the careers programme. With OI2020 now rescheduled to 1-3 December 2020, we’ll play our full part then.

OI2020 is just one of many events that have been cancelled or postponed, including OTC in Houston, MCE-Deepwater Development in London, Eastern Mediterranean Energy Cyprus, All-Energy in Glasgow, & we had also been invited for the first time to an Aquaculture event in Aviemore, demonstrating that an ever-widening part of the marine technology community is keen to learn from our existing core membership about how to address technology challenges.

MCE-Deepwater Development is currently rescheduled to 15-17 June in London, if it still goes ahead on that schedule it’s the first of the conferences we’ll be back to, otherwise, the next one still in the calendar is Oceanology Middle East in Abu Dhabi from 7-9 September 2020. Our SUT Middle East Branch has partnered with Reed Exhibitions Middle East to support the conference programme and chair sessions – click here for further information. The Cyprus marine energy event is also scheduled the same dates, with All-Energy on 14 & 15 September. At the time of writing I don’t have a new date for OTC, other than that it will be in the ‘third quarter’ of 2020.

Our training courses, particularly the highly-regarded Subsea Awareness Courses (SAC) offered by many of our Branches, are powerful tools for knowledge transfer to new entrants to the offshore industry from experienced practitioners, and are significant sources of revenue to SUT, enabling us to exist and carry on as a Learned Society. Until the virus lockdown we were very pleased to see a resurgence in demand for training. These are now postponed but hopefully can resume in a few months time.

At the end of January we held our first SAC in Baku, Azerbaijan for BP and were delighted by the enthusiasm and energy of the attendees. Aberdeen held a SAC in March just before the lockdown, and Houston, Perth, Middle East and some of the Committees also held well-attended training courses and events in the first quarter of 2020.

As mentioned above, we’re developing new online methods of reaching out to our members, and look forward to rescheduling training courses once free movement is restored.

Subsea Awareness Course in Baku in January 2020 taken at OneSubsea / Cameron Baku

Defence-sector Autonomous Systems

The last event we attended before the close-down was Underwater Defence and Security in Southampton, where SUT was asked to provide insight into how industry has adopted advanced digital and autonomous technologies that are, in some cases, several years ahead of where the defence sector has so far moved. They are, however, catching up fast and will soon be fielding very capable platforms, including for the first time armed AUVs, with the UK’s First Sea Lord announcing during the conference of investment in large, armed autonomous submarines.

At SUT, our Policy Advisory Committee will be able to play a useful role in helping address the legal and policy gaps that apply to armed robots – the last internationally-agreed piece of international legislation that applies to such things was the 1907 Hague Convention Part VIII, focused on sea-mines and torpedoes. Now that at least one nation is on the verge of deployment of a nuclear-armed and powered AUV, and with many more on the verge of weaponising robots that have no submerged bandwidth to ask for permission to fire from human authority, it’s time for the community to work together to ensure that such systems can be operated safely, and with due regard for international law. It’s another aspect of what SUT can do as a respected, international Learned Society that isn’t always apparent to outside observers.

Launch of Armada

On 3 February I joined a number of SUT Members at the Science Museum in London for the launch of ‘Armada’ by Ocean Infinity. The name refers to the fleet of a dozen or compact remote-control survey vessels that will operate as a swarm for rapid offshore survey missions. It was certainly a glimpse at the future of offshore survey work, and as artificial intelligence and software improve, it is clear that the next stage would be a fully autonomous survey on a large scale.

UT2, UT3 and videos

John Howes does a superb job editing our magazine UT2 & the online version UT3, and is also creator of the ‘Subsea in 60 Seconds’ videos featured on his YouTube channel where he also provided some insight into the things we would have seen at Oceanology International this year with five short videos, click here for the first one. He also updates his LinkedIn regularly with a series of historic photos of offshore installations and equipment that are fascinating to learn more about – follow UT2 Subsea on LinkedIn and at for more.

New Members

I extend a very warm welcome the following new corporate members to SUT:

  • Allseas Marine Contractors
  • Dolphin Energy
  • EEL
  • Horizon Geosciences UAE
  • MarineSpace
  • Ørsted
  • Serica Energy
  • Wessex Archaeology

It’s good to see new members joining in the Middle East, where our Branch is doing well, and I’d like to thank Ørsted for hosting an evening meeting at their London office for the young members of the Early Careers Offshore Site Investigation Geoscience and Geotechnics (ECOSIGG) special interest group at the start of February and are the first of the largest offshore wind specialists to join SUT as a corporate member – it’s a sector that will continue to grow across the world and I expect that in future we’ll see them joined by companies that specialise floating solar, offshore hydrogen and other new energy sources as the ‘energy transition’ gathers pace.

SUT Journal

As a Learned Society one of our key outputs is the regular publication of a peer-reviewed Journal, ‘Underwater Technology’. We always welcome high-quality manuscripts for review and publication, and after a couple of years with relatively low rates of submission I’m pleased to see that we’ve got a healthy flow of input. Our editorial board is top rate, with senior experts from all over the ocean technology and policy community represented – though sometimes our editors get stumped when a paper comes in about a really obscure subject! If you are an expert on areas of subsea technology, and willing to peer-review articles please contact [email protected] who’d be delighted to add you to her list of trusted reviewers. The latest issue of the Journal, 37.1 is online for free viewing at and includes a ‘personal view’ article from Judith Patten MBE of the SUT Marine Renewables Energy Committee.

Around the Global SUT Community

Wherever possible we establish our overseas branches as separate legal entities to the UK branch, so that they are independent and free to raise their own funding, and conduct operations appropriate to local circumstances. Members are always part of the global SUT family, and all enjoy the same benefits and are free to attend any Branch’s events as if they were a local.

The biggest branches outside the UK are the US and Australia. Our US Branch remains very active and, despite the COVID-19 outbreak, are working hard to stay in touch with their members and to continue delivering events and training by online means. The US Branch has student chapters at several universities in the Houston area including Texas A&M, Rice University and the University of Houston and has strong representation from their younger members in taking forward the activities of the Branch. Recent events have included their ‘Champagne & Conversation Series, Edition 5’ “How it was, how it is, and how we want it to be – a male perspective”, offshore workforce engagement through modern technology & techniques, a one-day workshop on key elements of subsea tiebacks and an edition of the Metocean Awareness Course, which we co-developed with IMarEST who hope to run one in London later in 2020.

There’s a strong link to developing SUT in neighbouring Mexico too, with colleagues visiting Merida to help develop local capabilities, hopefully in time leading to the establishment of a branch there.

Perth Branch has a healthy representation on SUT Council too and are very well-engaged with the offshore industry community in western Australia. Meetings in the first quarter included an evening technical meeting on decommissioning, and the Branch has been working with Engineers Australia to launch a Subsea Engineering Competency Framework, though the launch event which had been due to take place on 25 March has needed to be postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The Western Australia Defence Review did a feature interview with Perth Branch chair Rex Hubbard earlier in March, and you can see the video here.

We are just at the start of operations for the new SUT Branch that’s developing in St John’s Newfoundland, where they held an inaugural meeting a few months ago. As soon as the weather improves and coronavirus restrictions are eased I anticipate that our first Canadian branch will make rapid progress.

China Branch was very active in 2019 with Chair, and SUT Council Member Professor Frank Lim helping the Branch make substantial progress. The virus has understandably impacted activities very hard, but I know they are keen to get going again when they can and to try to, as a company under Chinese law, ease the ability of the Branch to recruit local members.

Middle East Branch is becoming one of our most active new Branches, with Adrian Philips and his colleagues holding events in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and building good relationships across the region.

Norway are resuming activities after a hiatus, and now have SUT Fellow Sarah Elkhatib in the country – she was formerly a very active member of Perth Branch and brings extensive experience to help get local activities up to speed.

Singapore Branch is in a position to regrow, and are seeking new investment to help fund activities. Kuala Lumpur have been struggling a bit, and if we have members in the area who’d like to get involved and help get activities back off the ground there please get in touch. Our other struggling Branch is Brazil, where numbers have fallen over the last decade and are mostly from the academic community. Part of the task for SUT in coming months is to work with the less active branches to help get them back into shape.

Our West Africa Branch are generating a lot of activity now in Nigeria and Ghana, and beginning to grow an enthusiastic membership base. Our International Committee is working closely with our African members and has asked committee member Jim Neffgen to keep an eye on how the Branch is developing.

We’ve had many inquiries in recent months about developing activities in the Eastern Mediterranean region (Egypt, Cyprus, Lebanon, etc.) and as a consequence of the recent Baku Subsea Awareness Course, there’s a possibility that we’ll be able to develop a new Branch in Azerbaijan at some point in the near to medium term.


SUT make a number of awards each year, for outstanding achievement by members and allies of SUT. These include the Lennard-Senior Memorial Prize for outstanding individual achievement in the field of Marine Renewable Energy (selected by the Marine Renewable Energy Committee), the Houlder Cup for the Best Contribution to Underwater Operations (selected the Diving and Manned Submersibles Committee), the SUT Oceanography Award for outstanding contribution to the field of oceanography (selected by Members of Council), and President’s Award for extensive contributions to underwater technology for sustained periods, selected by our President.

Unlike many other Societies, our Fellowships are also awarded by Council, rather than automatically conferred for members with a certain level of academic and work-experience achievement.

I’d welcome input from members who have suggestions for people in our community we should be nominating for awards too – they are mostly issued at the end of the year (except Lennard-Senior, which is generally awarded during the ‘All-Energy’ conference) so there’s plenty of time to get those nominations in.

A new award we’re very proud to be associated with is the Captain Don Walsh Award, which we’ll be issuing jointly with our colleagues at the Marine Technology Society:

Captain Don Walsh Award for Ocean Exploration

Awarded jointly by the Marine Technology Society and the Society for Underwater Technology, this award recognises outstanding, sustained, international contribution to the development, application, and propagation of marine technology toward the advancement of ocean exploration.

Don Walsh (born 1931) is an American oceanographer, explorer, retired naval officer, and marine policy specialist. He and Jacques Piccard were aboard the bathyscaphe Trieste when it made a record descent into the Mariana Trench on January 23, 1960, the deepest point of the world’s oceans.

MTS is looking after the administration for this award, and they do so in a slightly different way to how SUT had traditionally made such awards by allowing people to self-nominate as well as have others put them forward – to apply click here, or contact me directly with nominations.

SUT-MTS Collaboration

While on the subject of how we work better with the Marine Technology Society, we have formed a joint working group where senior members of SUT & MTS are meeting online and exchanging information and ideas to explore how best the two societies can cooperate and work together where appropriate for the mutual benefit of our global underwater technology community. We’ll keep members updated on how the work of the joint working group is proceeding, and look forward to continuing to develop a good working relationship with a sister Learned Society that covers similar ground to SUT.

Patrons Scheme

At the London AGM in December we formally launched the SUT Patrons Scheme and our first Patron, Tony Globe, was awarded his laser-etched ‘Patron’ trophy at the London & Southern England Branch meeting in Woking on 20th February. We very much welcome other members who would like to support SUT’s work via the Ocean Patrons scheme – click here for a brief introduction or contact me for further details.

Chartered Marine Technologist

We had an initial flurry of interest in applying for Chartered Marine Technologist status but not much follow up since – if you’d like to learn more contact me directly for further information and application materials.

SUT Committees and Special Interest Groups

While we are at various levels of lockdown across the world, the work of our committees and special interest groups continues by online meetings. In the UK the International Committee and Marine Renewables Energy Committee will meet online in mid-April, and SUT Council and Exec will meet online on 23 April. If you’d like to join any of our special interest groups, which cover a very wide range of marine technology areas, please get in touch.

SUT Colouring Book

If your children (or you!) enjoy colouring-in books we have line-art versions of Rachel Hathaway’s drawings for ‘Can a Lobster be an Archaeologist?’ available to print off at home – download them for FREE here.

Save the London

We’ve been developing a good working relationship with the team behind the ‘Save the London’ project and enjoyed having the head of the Nautical Archaeology Trust, Dr. Mark Beattie-Edwards, as our guest speaker at our AGM in December. Long-standing SUT Member Tony Taylor has been helping the project behind the scenes, and if any SUT members are interested in helping secure resources to uncover the Thames Estuary’s very own ‘Mary Rose’ let me know and I can put you in touch with the relevant people.

I’d like to finish this newsletter with a repeat of what I posted online recently about our colleague and friend Dr. John Bevan, who passed away in February.

Dr John Bevan

Within the SUT ‘family’, we have a number of members who have served the ocean technology community with distinction for decades, and one who did more than most was Dr John Bevan, a member since 1969, who passed away after a long fight with cancer on 3rd February 2020. A strong contingent of SUT Members were present for his funeral in Gosport – one of the most uplifting & joyous celebrations of a life well lived I’ve had the opportunity to be part of. John’s friends & family, especially his wife Ann, had us in tears of laughter as they recounted anecdotes from extraordinary career at the cutting edge of developing deep-diving technology.

John had served SUT as Chair of our Diving & Manned Submersibles committee for many years, making a major contribution to diving safety through the Committee’s close working relationship with the Health & Safety Executive and the diving medicine & hyperbaric medicine community. He was a much-loved mentor, a repository of knowledge and history, and had also served SUT as Honorary Secretary and Member of Council. He was a recipient of the prestigious Houlder Cup for services to diving in 2002, and had been a Fellow of SUT since before our electronic records began.

John’s wide range of contacts from the breadth of the diving community brought SUT diving members from marine archaeology, film and TV, salvage and underwater contracting, military divers, recreational divers and the safety & medical community – his is the only SUT Committee where members might in the last 24 hours have been filming a scene for a James Bond movie, treating a patient in a recompression chamber, recovering a sunken helicopter, carrying out a survey of a coral reef, welding a broken structure, training new divers or searching drowned bronze-age settlements for artefacts. John’s wide range of interests encapsulated all that makes SUT special – a broad community united in their interest in underwater technology, and eager to learn from one another.

John chairing a meeting of the Diving & Manned Submersibles Committee, HQS Wellington 2017

Outside SUT John had a prolific output as an author, manager of his company Submex, editor of ‘Underwater Contractor International’ magazine and more. He was the Founding Chairman of the Historical Diving Society in 1990, & one of the founders of Gosport’s Diving Museum. His books included ‘Commander Crabb – What Really Happened?’; ‘Crabbgate’; ‘The development of the diving helmet and dress in the UK during the 19th century’; and the esteemed ‘The Professional Divers Handbook’ – the industry-standard text for professional hard-hat divers.

John’s historical interests stretched to guiding enthusiasts around little known corners of London on the ‘historical diving pub tour’ of legend.

John’s professional life was extremely busy, and impressive. After a BSc in Zoology & Physiology from the University of London in 1967 he undertook a Masters in the neurophysiology of deep diving in 1970, having joined the Royal Naval Scientific Service. During his time as a Ministry of Defence Scientist he established a world deep-diving record in a hyperbaric chamber of 457m, approximately 1500 feet, some 90m deeper that had been thought possible and described at the time as the ‘hyperbaric Moon landing’. His further qualifications included Royal Navy Ship’s Diver, Saturation Life-Support Supervisor, multiple BSAC qualifications at the highest level, 100 hours diving time in submersibles including the Pisces & Mantis class, time in observation bells and the ‘Jim’ atmospheric diving suit. He used most of the diving systems known to humankind including SCUBA, rebreather, military spec, free-flow helmet, closed circuit, hot-water & electrically heated suits & had dived all over the world.

John breaking the deepest dive record during his Royal Naval Scientific Service days

After leaving the Royal Naval Scientific Service he worked for Comex then Comex-John Brown before setting up Submex Ltd in 1976, where John specialised in construction, inspection, maintenance, diving incident and accident investigation, repair, ROV operations, wreck investigation, salvage, cable burial, film production, expert witness and training. Quite a list!

He achieved his doctorate in 1990 on the development of diving equipment, demonstrating his fascination with the evolution of technology over the years and detailed expert knowledge. John would often demonstrate historical equipment, and visitors to the Diving Museum in Gosport can be assured of a fascinating experience as they see at first hand equipment covering the history of human diving.

John’s family were key parts of his own life-support system and his wife Ann has played a key role in helping John develop the Historical Diving Society. SUT Members wishing to honour John’s memory are invited to make any donations via

Once the lock-down from the coronavirus is all over, SUT hope to work with others from the diving community to celebrate John’s life and achievements, and give thanks for his service to our Society, our Country, and to the safety of all who work beneath the waves.

That’s all from me for this month – stay safe & healthy, keep an eye on our online feeds, and I’ll look forward to see you in person again after we’re all free to move.

Steve Hall CEO SUT [email protected] 27/3/20