Refurbishment of Hyperbaric Chamber at Fort Bay, Saba

In support of the striving dive tourism on Saba, the Dutch Navy donated a decommissioned hyperbaric chamber to the island in 1991. With the assistance of dedicated volunteers, the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) was charged with the management of the medical facility. Over a time span of about 18 years, it was used mainly for the treatment of scuba dive accidents from the entire region, but also proved valuable for Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) applications, including slow healing wounds and carbon monoxide poisoning. The medical potential of HBOT as treatment for a variety of other conditions (e.g. stroke, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, autism, chronic fatigue, sports injuries, etc.) is being researched all over the world.


However, with the advancement of dive technology, the number of dive accidents has steadily decreased. Also, very few HBOT applications are covered by general medical insurance and the collection of treatment charges was difficult. Although a fee of US$ 1.00 per scuba dive was introduced in 2007 to sustain the operations, the hyperbaric chamber was running at a loss. There were fewer and fewer trained volunteer chamber drivers and tenders available for the upkeep of the emergency "on-call" schedule 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. The Dräger pressure vessel, manufactured in 1966 and supply systems were in urgent need of repairs and upgrades to maintain international standards and certification by Divers Alert Network (DAN), which the SCF could not afford. Hence, the foundation was forced to close the facility in 2009.

To continue providing dive emergency services, the SCF set up an arrangement with the Saba University School of Medicine to utilize their hyperbaric facility until a solution for the Fort Bay chamber could be found. Two SCF staff members were trained in the use of the equipment and oxygen tanks for treatments were transferred from Fort Bay to the medical school. It was made clear that the facility could be used for the treatment of Decompression Sickness (DCS) cases only if a local physician determined an emergent situation that could cause significant damage to the health of the patient.

Unfortunately, because the school had concerns about liability, a formal agreement could not be established and thus the SCF discontinued the collection of chamber fees on March 1st 2011.

In a proactive approach, understanding the importance of the hyperbaric chamber to Saba’s medical and tourism sectors, in November 2012 the Saba Island Government announced that a grant of US$ 50,000.00 would be made available to refurbish the facility.

Güssow-Voyé Drucktechnik in Germany was contracted to evaluate the equipment in December 2012 and undertake the necessary work from September 6th to 21st, 2013.

The chamber now boasts a brand new "state of the art" compressor, air banks, super-precise control panel, digital dive recorder, etc. The chamber was thoroughly tested to a maximum pressure of 5.8 bars and is now fully operational again. Nonetheless, some minor works still need to be undertaken before a request can be made for DAN to reapprove the chamber in November this year.

Since the SCF is handing over the administration of the facility to the Saba Island Government after finalization of the project, the main task remaining is the establishment of a committee to resume that responsibility.

In the meantime, a separate, dedicated bank account has been established with funds deposited by the SCF, in an amount equal to outstanding hyperbaric chamber fees claimed by Saba dive operators. These moneys should be sufficient to allow a successful start of a new Saba Hyperbaric Medical Facility, with the involvement of the relevant stakeholders on the island.