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Sea Mine Concerns Delay Humanitarian Aid Into Umm Qasr

Aired March 27, 2003 - 03:05   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We want to turn our attention to the humanitarian aid just waiting to get into southern Iraq. That first ship carrying aid is still waiting in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. We believe it will go into port on Friday, but we're just not sure as of yet.
Australian military divers are still clearing the channel for mines just ahead of the arrival of Britain's HMS Galahad.

The better news: a small amount of food and water has been trucked in from Kuwait to Umm Qasr, and some aid packages have also arrived in another southern Iraqi city, Safwan.

Now, the arrival of a British aid ship at Umm Qasr, as I said, has been delayed by concerns over mines in the shipping lanes.

Joining us on the phone is Becky Diamond, who is aboard an Australian minesweeper.

And, Becky, bring us up to date. Have they found mines in the past day?

BECKY DIAMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, what's happening on the HMAS Kanimbla -- and I apologize for the noise. This is a ship in action, so a lot of times you hear different noises on the pipe. But what's happening here is this ship is coordinating minesweeping measures and mine (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and clearing a small path, a channel, between 30 and 100 meters wide (UNINTELLIGIBLE) up to Umm Qasr along the KAA waterway, so that humanitarian ships will be able to safely navigate their way there.

Now, this had been delayed because of possible mines in the KAA waterway. There's no evidence right now that shows definitively that mines are in the water, but they've been locating objects that are potential threats. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they found late last week, an Australian boarding team discovered or found 86 mines on an Iraqi tug and barge in the waterway. So this has caused quite a concern here, and the threat level is rising.

So we're not -- you know, I'm holding tight on the ship right now and finding out more information, and I will (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you as I gather it. But as for now, the ship is waiting before it moves forward, and the humanitarian shipment has been delayed at least a day -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Becky, describe for us how this operation works. Do divers actually go into the water to look for these mines? DIAMOND: There are several steps that this ship oversees. One, there is -- and they are taken simultaneously. There are minesweepers. These are U.S. Coast Guard cutters, U.S. Navy patrols, as well as British ships that go out, and these are ships with (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and very sophisticated radar systems. And they are scanning the ocean or the waterways for mines -- underwater mines and ground mines.

Another way that they detect mines is through helicopters that use tugs, and these tugs also have sophisticated acoustic, magnetic and electronic radar, and they detect just in the ground or (UNINTELLIGIBLE). If one of these objects is detected, they deploy divers, and the divers will detonate a threatening object -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And when they detonate those threatening objects, what's that like? Have they done that as of yet?

DIAMOND: I can't say whether or not the divers have actually detonated a mine. I can tell you that they have been exploring the waterway, and if they were to detonate a mine, they would, of course, attach explosives and move away from it from a safe distance and watch it explode -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And I would imagine that the people waiting on board that British ship to bring in humanitarian aid are getting evermore frustrated.

DIAMOND: I'm sure they are, and I'll tell you the mood on this ship is getting evermore frustrated as well. These sailors feel they have a mission. They want to clear this channel for humanitarian aid, and they are dealing with some anxiety as well. Everyone sleeping below the water decks on this ship has been ordered to sleep in the hangar deck. So they're a little bit frightened.

And also, the sailors have been ordered to wear hard hats walking around in case of a potential explosion.

So there's some anxiety and wanting for the ships to get through so that aid can be delivered -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, we were just listening to a briefing from CENTCOM headquarters, and a British air general -- air marshal, rather, said that because there are mines in the waters here is proof that Saddam Hussein doesn't want humanitarian aid to get into Iraq. Is that the sense you are getting from the people you're talking to there?

DIAMOND: I can't quite say that. I can say that the people are frustrated in that they want their mission to work, that they -- one thing I definitely feel from every sailor with whom I've spoken, and on this ship, it's fascinating. There are Australian sailors, there are U.S. sailors and there are British sailors. It's a true coalition on board the Kanimbla. And every sailor feels -- I mean, every sailor with whom I've spoken definitely feels for the Iraqi people and wants to show the Iraqi people that humanitarian aid will flow from the coalition -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Becky Diamond, we'll let you get back to work. Many thanks to you.


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