INTERVIEW | Ben Remfrey: Up close and personal with a mine clearing expert

Business Today speaks to Ben Remfrey, managing director of Praedium Consulting Malta, specialists in training NGOs and governments in mine clearing. During EY Malta’s recently held Entrepreneur of the Year Award he won the Rising Star award, sponsored by Melita

Below (from left): Harald Roesch, CEO at Melita, David Darmanin from Hotjar, Ben Remfrey from Praedium Consulting and Ron Attard, Managing Partner at EY Malta during the presentation of the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards
Below (from left): Harald Roesch, CEO at Melita, David Darmanin from Hotjar, Ben Remfrey from Praedium Consulting and Ron Attard, Managing Partner at EY Malta during the presentation of the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

Ben Remfrey’s journey began at the age of 16 when he joined the British military. He started travelling the world as an engineer, dealing with explosives and dangerous landmines. Following the Gulf War in Kuwait, he led a team of eight men as they cleared mines in an oil field. After 18 months helping to clear over 700 wells, all eight men escaped unharmed as he applied the highest safety standards to ensure they got the job done without casualties.

Now, after more than twenty-five years at the forefront of the EOD & Mine Action industry, during which time he also founded the Mines Awareness Trust, Ben is today the Managing Director of Praedium Consulting Malta (PCM) Ltd and MAT Kosovo’s Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) & Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) Training Establishment.

PCM was originally founded with the intent to provide actual clearance services in war-torn regions and countries and consult national authorities on ammunitions storage, disposal, and stockpile reduction. However, early on an opportunity presented itself to acquire a controlling stake in MAT Kosovo which, however, was 100% focussed on training professionals in the ERW sector.

This involved training mine-clearers to International Mine Action Standards at all levels, but also specialist training such as disposal of chemical, biological and cluster ammunitions, guided weapons, improvised explosive devices, battle area clearance, and underwater clearance. As a result PCM’s clearance services were in direct competition with organisations being trained by MAT Kosovo. A swift decision was made to convert all PCM business activities to training, a decision which thanks to Ben’s vision of improving standards and focusing on training excellence, has proved to be the right one.

What does the training you offer consist in?

Our services cover the wide breadth of international mine action standards, from entry, through intermediate, to advanced bomb disposal and counter-improvised explosive defeat speciality areas.  

Within this there are other disciplines such as Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) Risk Management for non-technical personnel - awareness and mitigation, Ammunition Stockpile Management, Medical Team Orderlies, drone operators pilot training and also Post Blast Scene Management and Advanced Electronics.  There are also more specialist courses which are subject to confidentiality.

How did you become a bomb disposal expert? What is your background?

My formative years were spent in the British Army. After I left the army, I worked around the world in the sector of Humanitarian Mine Action.

Why did you choose to base Praedium Consulting in Malta?

Malta was chosen initially as I was operating in Libya, so initially proximity was the driver. I then moved my family to Malta and subsequently became the technical advisor to the oil and gas companies, advising on the dangerous areas of Libya pertaining to the unexploded ordnance issues.

In 2015 Praedium Consulting Malta (PCM) was formed as a Maltese Registered Company. While it’s a new company, it has benefitted from my and my staff’s experience over years of operations. I have been in the civil side of the business for 29 years. PCM has filled a void in the industry by specialising and increasing standards through exceptional training, something which was missing before 2015.

In which countries have you given your services to clear mines?

I’ve cleared mines in Kuwait, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, DRC, Uganda, Eritrea, Sri Lanka, the Falkland Islands, Rwanda and many more besides.

The first thing which springs to mind when speaking about mine clearing is the danger that this involves. Emotionally, how do you deal with the risk?

I am able to be detached and work consciously and often with a surgical approach. Emotions do factor in of course. However, I suppose I am an unusual character – but I am not sure!

Has anyone in your team lost their life in the course of their work?

My team has have never lost anyone directly. In Kuwait, within the organisation, we lost several guys – friends – and since then I have known many who have made the ultimate sacrifice. But PCM has a 100% safety record, standards and safety being my main concern.

Which was/is the most dangerous clearance project you have had?

It has to be Kuwait in 1991, after the first Gulf War. This was way before recognised standards and procedures were implemented. It’s surprising more of us were not killed or seriously injured in the course of our work.

Was there a particular incident in the course of your work to clear mines which remained particularly imprinted in your mind?

One event where two children were killed, and I was involved in the investigation into why they were playing with a cluster bomblet. The parents were on site when it happened, and it was a harrowing time.

What would you consider the greatest achievement of your work in this sector?

I am not sure to be honest. I have had many achievements in the course of my work throughout my life. If I were to select two work-related achievements, they would be (1) raising the level of competency in the industry by better training and implementing higher standards, thereby decreasing accidents, and (2) the clearance of Rwanda of all landmines and ERW in high population and subsistence regions, way before the Ottawa Treaty’s Article 5 deadline.

What was it like participating in EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award like? Did you expect to win the Rising Star Award?

In all honesty I do not usually enter such competitions. Karl Strobl, my business partner, decided to enter due to his past attendance at the awards and his view of how much of a great event it is. Thereafter my experience has been a refreshing and of course rewarding one.

The EY team have been outstanding in the way they communicated and welcomed PCM to the process – which is not common these days where professionalism and the personal touch meet.  

Did I expect to win the rising star? No is the short answer, as the competition was fierce in terms of the other businesses involved and the numerical odds in being selected.

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