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‘We were hoping for an 11th hour rescue’ says former Underwater Centre director

Students at the Underwater Centre in Fort William were just two days into a diving course when the firm collapsed
Students at the Underwater Centre in Fort William were just two days into a diving course when the firm collapsed

A former director of a world-class diving training centre at Fort William has recalled “hoping for an 11th hour rescue package which never came”.

The Underwater Centre, which was restructured as a not-for-profit in May 2018 with the help of investment from the industry, went into administration in October that year.

John MacLellan, who spent nine years at the site, said it was a “painful time” for the 56 workers as well as dozens of students who lost thousands of pounds of training fees.

He said: “It was a good business but we just didn’t have the customers, without doubt.

“That’s down to the fact that courses were relatively expensive and there was no guarantee of employment at the end of that.

“These guys were funding themselves, they weren’t being funded by any supermajors.

“So come 2018 the writing was very much on the wall and by October the Underwater Centre went into administration.

“It was a painful time for everybody because there were students on site who lost quite a lot of money and I remember having the discussion with the staff but also with the 40-plus students at the time to say that the doors were closing the next day.

“We all hoped for an 11th hour rescue package that never came.”

ALSO READ: ‘The doors are open’: Firm speaks of ‘long road’ to resurrect Fort William subsea business

The keys were then handed to administrators Johnston Carmichael, leading to Caldive buying the assets and setting up the Fort William Underwater Trials Centre (UTC) and Seafast ROV, which Mr MacLellan now runs.

Meanwhile diving training has been restarted after JFD, part of the James Fisher Group, acquired the closed bell saturation diving system and associated assets in August.

Mr MacLellan praised Caldive directors Iain Brodie and Sandra Wilkie for their “vision”.

He added: “Ian has the ability to see into the future somehow and he has a huge, positive attitude towards what we do over in Fort William.

“If that wasn’t’ the case I don’t think it would have been resurrected.

“Ian had the vision, without doubt, and sees where this could potentially go.

“This is totally new to them, the testing side of it, so it was a very bold move, but the company, Caldive –Seafast Maritime, Seafast ROV, Fort William Underwater Trials Centre – has grown hugely over the last 12 months and hopefully we’re starting to see the return.”

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