RAN Clearance Diving Operations in the Gulf War – 1991

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Subjects
History - post WWII
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RAN Ships
None noted.
Publication
June 1995 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)

During the period 27 January – 9 May, 1991, Australian Clearance Diving Team 3 deployed to the Middle East in support of Operations Damask and Desert Storm. Under the command of LCDR J. Griffith, RAN, the team consisted of 23 Clearance Divers and fifty tonnes of equipment and explosives and was initially based in Bahrain. In Bahrain the Team was involved in the preparations by the US Marine Corps for the potential amphibious invasion of Iraqi occupied Kuwait. As Operation Desert Storm progressed, for various reasons the requirement for an amphibious operation was negated. The Team’s primary mission as a consequence became the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) clearance of the ports of Kuwait in support of the US navy’s Coastal Warfare and Port Recovery operations.

March 1991 – Kuwait

In support of Coastal Warfare and Port Recovery operations CDT3 entered Kuwait by land on 5th March, 1991, to commence clearance operations with British and US Forces, their first objective being to clear the vital Kuwaiti port of Mina Ash Shuaibah 30 km south of Kuwait City. Shuaibah was Kuwait’s main port and the only port able to be used by the deep draught vessels required to bring food and water supplies into this devastated country. Speed therefore was of the utmost importance to allow humanitarian relief efforts to begin. Combining with almost 50 divers from the US and Royal Navies, CDT3 began the dangerous task of first clearing the wharves and warehouses of unexploded ordnance and booby traps before entering the black waters of the harbour itself, made treacherous by the thick crude oil and war wrecks, to search for and dispose of sea mines.

Iraqi Buoyant Mine - LUGM 145

Iraqi Buoyant Mine – LUGM 145

During the next 7 days, CDT3 cleared over 450,000 square metres of sea-bed in searching for both buoyant contact and influence ground mines. This effort represented 70% of harbour area cleared by Coalition Forces at the time the port was again opened to shipping on the 12th March, 1991. During this same period the Team also rendered safe 3 indigenous Iraqi sea mines washed up on the beaches north of the port. Unexploded ordnance and booby trap clearances were also carried out on a nearby refinery and a supertanker as well as several smaller vessels. Team members also assisted USN personnel recover 6 Chinese-made Silkworm anti ship missiles from the Kuwaiti Girls Science School.

Upon completion of operations in Shuaibah the Team switched operations to the south and were tasked with a single force clearance of the Kuwaiti Naval Base Ras Al Qualai’ah and surrounding beaches. Over the next 10 days the Team cleared the heavily bombed naval facility of unexploded ordnance and booby traps, a task requiring 4 days before it was safe to move all equipment and personnel into the port to commence diving operations. CDT3 cleared 411,000 square metres of harbour bottom and rendered safe or destroyed an additional 31 sea mines.

Iraqi Buoyant Mine LUGM 145 Ready for disposal

Iraqi Buoyant Mine LUGM 145 Ready for disposal

On completion of operations at Ras Al Qualai’ah, CDT3 redeployed north into Kuwait City itself to rejoin British, American and now French divers to conduct the last phase of port recovery operations. After surviving on ration packs and bottled water in the field it was a welcome change to move into an American compound complete with field kitchen, camp showers and latrines at the port of Ras Al Shuiwaik, even if it was still set up in a dockside warehouse! Here the Team cleared over a million square metres of harbour bottom, conducted ordnance disposal and recovery of ordnance and small arms – including a Silkworm missile (for intelligence purposes). The boat harbour at South Al Ahmadi (near Shuaibah) was also cleared and a channel leading out to a safe area was also surveyed.

April 1991

Coastal Warfare and Port Recovery operations were completed 22nd April, 1991 with the Team returning to Bahrain for well earned R and R and equipment maintenance and preparations for return to Australia on 11th May, 1991, after three and a half months deployed. CDT3 was disbanded on this date and members returned to their parent Teams.

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