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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Australian Ship Searches for Mines in Waterways of Iraq

Aired March 25, 2003 - 04:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: As part of the coalition, Australia has committed some 2,000 forces to the war in Iraq.
CNN's Becky Diamond is on an Australian ship. She joins us by phone.

Becky -- what's the latest?

BECKY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, the level of anxiety on this ship is heightened because of a mine threat in the KAA waterway. That's the waterway leading to Umm Qasr from the Persian Gulf.

Late last week, an Aussie-led boarding team -- this ship hosts boarding teams. They're teams that go out and search every vessel leaving from Iraqi waters. And a boarding team late last week discovered 86 mines on two different Iraqi vessels, so this is causing quite a concern on this ship.

The mines were discovered in a shipping container on a barge, a hidden door leading to a cargo hold. It held 68 buoyance and ground mines. And on another tug, there was another 18 mines hidden under 44-gallon drums.

Now, none of those mines are thought -- none of the mines on either of those ships were thought to have been deployed, but there is a concern now that the waterways leading to Umm Qasr could be mined. And they've asked everyone sleeping below the water line on this ship to move up to the hangar deck, and in addition, everyone is supposed to be wearing a hard hat.

And this ship is intending to go up the KAA waterway and make sure it is cleared of mines, so that ships carrying humanitarian aid can get up there -- Anderson.

COOPER: Becky, I imagine it's extraordinarily dangerous for the ship to be going up there searching for the mines. Do you have a sense of how they do it? I mean, you mentioned that there are boarding crews on that ship. I understand that they would board vessels looking for mines. But as for finding mines that are in the water, do you have a sense of how that's done?

DIAMOND: Well, first, there are two primary mine countermeasures that this ship is coordinating. One is through a helicopter, a Sea King I believe it's called, and it's an enormous helicopter, and it trails a tug. And that tug has some devices that detect mines, and of course if something blows up, it will blow -- it's a sled. It's more than a tug. It will blow the sled up, which is unmanned, of course. And that will say, hey, a mine is here.

The other way is through what's called a minesweeper. It's a plastic-hull ship, so that if there is an explosion it can absorb the shock much better than the ship we're on right now.

So it's through those two ways they go out and detect whether mines are there.

Once they've located a mine, they send out divers and ordnance specialists to handle it -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Becky, so just so we're absolutely clear, they have found a number of mines, you are reporting, on board these two vessels, but nothing yet seen in the water at this point.

DIAMOND: Absolutely correct, Anderson. There were 86 mines found, buoyance and ground mines, found on two different vessels, a barge and a tug boat.

Now, people are concerned that mines could be in the water, but there is no evidence as of yet that any mines have been deployed or laid by Iraqi forces -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Becky Diamond reporting from aboard an Australian ship.

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