The phenomenon of young Estonian men heading to Finland for jobs in the construction industry is long established. Now ETV's “Pealtnägija” program has highlighted a subculture of Estonian divers working in Norway.
Over 20 Estonians now work in the dangerous industry in Norway. It might not sound like much but Estonians make up over half of scallop divers in the country. Some are also in the underwater construction and repair industry, the program revealed on Wednesday evening.
Marko Kaldmaa is in Norway for his eleventh scallop season, now in high gear. In an interview, he said that that day alone his team had collected 1,000 kilos of scallops, each man diving down to 30 meters twice a day.
Erki Rätsep, a former welder, works as a underwater repair man. He said that Norwegians, and others around the world, tried to replace divers with robots in the 1990s, but had to revert to manual labor.
Conditions are a far cry from the warm coral waters that most people associate with diving, as water temperatures in Norway are currently only a few degrees Celsius above zero, increasing to 13 C in summer.
In addition to environmental dangers, divers can suffer technical failures at any moment. Kaldmaa said that in the last five or six years, three scallop divers have died while on the job.
Rätsep said he has had a few close calls, but wants to move to the next level. He currently dives down to 50-meter depths, but is planning to take a course on saturation diving, which means he would live under water for weeks to reduce decompression sickness by not having to come up after a dive.
He would be the first documented Estonian saturation diver.
“I feel this is my path, I feel very comfortable and peaceful,” Rätsep said.