U.S. Navy Set to Begin Clearing Mines Off Kuwait
A U.S. Navy demolition diving team is set to begin a sweep of underwater mines placed by Iran in the Persian Gulf channel that leads to Kuwait’s main oil terminal, Pentagon sources said Wednesday.
The operation, a key prerequisite to the start of U.S. escorts for Kuwaiti oil tankers, “could start as early as today,” said one official.
“It might be today or it might be Thursday, but they’re ready to go,” added the official, who agreed to discuss the matter only if not identified.
According to the sources, the 18-man Navy ordnance disposal squad completed the task of locating the underwater mines last week. Roughly a dozen mines have been positively identified and their locations fixed, the sources added.
The Navy team will operate from small Kuwaiti patrol boats, sending divers down into the gulf’s waters to attach explosive charges to each mine, the sources continued. When all the charges have been attached, the mines will be destroyed simultaneously, the sources concluded.
The procedures for the minesweeping operation were worked out recently through joint consultations with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the officials said. Once the Navy team completes its work, Saudi Arabia has agreed to accept the responsibility “of maintaining a clear channel,” added one source.
The Saudis have four minesweeping ships in their navy, and those vessels will operate in the area south of Kuwait indefinitely, conducting special sweeps before each U.S.-escorted tanker convoy enters the area, the sources said.
American intelligence sources last month confirmed reports from maritime sources in the gulf that Iran had planted underwater mines in the gulf approaches to Kuwait. That action was viewed as a response to President Reagan’s decision to extend U.S. military protection to 11 Kuwaiti oil tankers that are being re-registered to fly the American flag.
The mines are anchored to the bottom, tethered on lines that keep them below the gulf’s surface, the sources said. They were located initially by using portable side-scanning sonar systems carried by the Navy team. Their location subsequently was fixed positively by Navy frogmen.