Contributed by Charles Fox
Over 30 years since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, which left over 2 million Cambodians dead, Cambodia and its people still suffer in the form of the deadly and hidden threat of land mines. Un-detonated land mines continue to kill or injure more than a 100 people each year. Since the early 1990’s, the Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) has been responsible for clearing vast areas of Cambodia from the threat of land mines. The huge task has now taken a new direction, as the CMAC, in conjunction with the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, has selected a strong group of de-miners from 40 hopeful volunteers to become Cambodia’s first elite salvage diving unit.
During the early 1970’s, ships carrying large stockpiles of explosive ordinance to supply the Khmer Republic where sunk in the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers by the Khmer Rouge. Many of these boats sit on the bottom of the Mekong river with unexploded ordinance inside. This is not only a threat to local fishermen, but also national and regional security.
The selected de-miner are being trained not only to dive and recover, but how to do so completely blind. With depths of up to 30 meters and strong currents, the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers are hostile conditions requiring both physical and mental strength and dexterity.
Photographer Charles fox has been working regularly in Cambodia since 2006 and relocated full time in 2012. Charles has followed the divers training for the last 18 months.
To be able to fully tell the story Charles needed to get into the water and dive down into the depths, however this is only possible on training dives due to visibility which in the Mekong river will be virtually zero. Charles needed to clearly capture the divers training in the sea and in the swimming pool, and that's where Ikelite equipment came in handy.
To be able to really tell this story I had to be able to experience what the divers feel and understand the conditions. The low visibility was certainly an issue but it makes for the perfect tone, you look at the images and its dark, moody and inhospitable, I wanted to go some way to show how difficult this job is going to be.
Charles continues to follow the divers and recently went with them on a river training exercise.
For now I am just finding my way in the rivers. It's a very different environment—just when I feel I have a grip on the low visibility in the sea, then the rivers throw a new set of challenges my way.
For more information on the Cambodia De-Miner project, visit Charles' website.