Divers Cooperate to Keep Bahrain’s Port Free of Mines
British and Dutch divers are working side-by-side in the warm, salty waters of Bahrain port as part of a major Gulf exercise dealing with the threat of mines.
Although much of the emphasis of the 40-nation IMCMEX – International Mine Counter-Measures Exercise – is focused on clearing routes for the safe passage of shipping, it’s also crucial that merchantmen leave and arrive at ports safely.
The Royal Navy possesses a specialist team of experienced shallow water divers whose sole job is to ensure that harbours are not mined: Fleet Diving Unit 3.
Alongside their Dutch counterparts, they’ve deployed for the two-week duration of the exercise to a rather drab jetty in Bahrain’s Mina Salman port, fresh from taking part in the Joint Warrior war games in Scotland last month, when they were working in much cooler waters off Campbeltown.
Their equipment can be contained in a couple of chacon containers – which, with a tent, also serve as their home.
The unit is, says its Officer in Charge Lt Nathan Isaacs, “the last piece of the mine warfare puzzle”.
“Our job is to make sure that ports and harbours are clear of mines and other devices.”
Technology substantially helps the work of his ten-strong team of explosive ordnance disposal divers, notably the Remus 100 (the 100 signifies the depth in metres it works to), an autonomous underwater vehicle – robot submersible.
About half the length of a torpedo, it ‘flies’ about three metres above the seabed, looking for anything unusual – its side-scan sonar can pick up something as small as a 500ml bottle of water.
It’s set off on a pre-programmed route by the dive team. It’ll take about three to four hours to search a square kilometre of seabed and a similar amount of time to process the data.
“It would take about two weeks to search a harbour of this size,” explains PO(D) Gareth Buffrey, sweeping his arm across the breadth of Bahrain’s main Mina Salman port, which handles two and a half million tons of shipping a year.
“With this kit we can do it in three days.”
There’s a caveat, however.
“The biggest challenge here is the environment,” the senior rating adds.
“Electronics don’t like the heat – they sweat in these temperatures. You have to take a lot of care with them.”
When Remus returns from its mission and its data has been analysed – the latitude and longitude of any contacts are logged – it’s down to clearance divers to go in and inspect: it could be a bottle of water, or it could be a mine or underwater homemade bomb.
The FDU3 are a small part of the Royal Navy’s input to IMCMEX. In all the UK has committed six ships and more than 600 personnel to the exercise, working with 30 vessels, dive teams and mine warfare experts from every continent except Antarctica.
The exercise concludes at the end of this week.
Press Release, May 21, 2013