Lieutenant Commander Kevin Stockton, who is based at HM Naval Base Clyde, is meeting with experts from Italy, Germany, Sweden and Denmark to discuss the options available to divers in what is now the sixth week since the liner keeled over off Isola del Giglio, which is off the coast of Tuscany, Italy, on 13 January 2012.
His swift departure for the Italian capital follows contact made by the Italian authorities with the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. Senior officers decided immediately that Lt Cdr Stockton was the right man for the job.
The Royal Navy is keen to stress that the talks are only at the preliminary stage, and that Lt Cdr Stockton will return to Britain on Friday, whatever the outcome.
Lt Cdr Stockton is Commanding Officer of the Northern Diving Group. In December, the Group won the Royal Navy’s 2011 Diving Unit Effectiveness Trophy after responding to 120 explosive ordnance device call-outs in the year, including carrying out crucial forensic work as part of the Celtic Football Club parcel bombs investigation. In that case, they dismantled the packages by hand, photographing and x-raying them before handing them over to scientists and detectives.
In another incident, a team of divers from the unit were airlifted to a nuclear submarine in the Atlantic and worked for 36 hours non-stop to free a fouled propulsor unit, enabling the submarine to return to its patrol duty as quickly as possible.
Two divers are always on ten minutes’ notice to deploy anywhere for explosive ordnance disposal, and within 24 hours a five-man team can be sent anywhere in the world for fleet maintenance and repairs.