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Iraq's Umm Qasr Port Demining Process Well Under Way

Coalition forces are struggling to clear the way for the delivery of humanitarian supplies for Iraqi civilians. An aid convoy of seven trucks escorted by U.S. soldiers reached the port city of Umm Qasr today carrying food and water overland from Kuwait. But, aid deliveries via the waterways have been delayed as coalition forces search for hidden mines.

VOA TV's Margaret Kennedy is one of the embedded journalists traveling with the U.S. military. She has just come off the USS Constellation and will board the ship Comfort in a few days. Speaking from the shores of Bahrain, she tells News Now's Rebecca Ward that the demining process in Umm Qasr is well underway.

Ms. Kennedy: There are two ships, the Dextrous and the Brocklesby, that are clearing a 200-meter channel, so that they can clear the port area, the final stretches of the port area, in Umm Qasr. And these ships have found hundreds of what they call objects are targets in the water that are suspected to be mines. They don't know how many of these might be, but they take every one as a serious prospect. So, these have been identified earlier, and these two ships are busy now basically trying to blow up any contact that they have had in the water, whether it's a mine or not.

And behind them, in the next 36 hours or so, there is hope that the ship Sir Galahad, also a U.K. ship, will be able to pull through the channel and get into the port. The Sir Galahad has basic foodstuffs, water, sugar, lentils, things that people really need as part of the basic humanitarian relief that the coalition forces are trying to send into Umm Qasr.

Ms. Ward: Now, we actually just heard a briefing from Brigadier General Vince Brooks in Doha, who said the port at Umm Qasr is pretty much secure.

Ms. Kennedy: Well, that is the sense of either side of the waterway on the land. It has been secured. The Royal Marines have gone in there to make sure that no ship going up the channel is going to be shot at. The waterway itself, there are still these hundreds of objects that they want to get rid of, so that a ship can safely come in and tie up in the port. And the ships that they are using, for instance, the Brocklesby, is a very interesting ship in the British Navy. It is actually a ship that is sort of glass-reinforced and it's full of plastic, so that it has a very low magnetic signature itself and also a very low acoustic signature, so that it can go through these waters quite safely and get rid of these mines.

The mines are below the water. They're dealing with many meters of silt under the surface here. And they're also trying to deal with if they find any floating mines. So, they're very, very concerned still that they get the mines out of the waterway.

Ms. Ward: There is kind of an interesting Reuters New Agency report about the dolphins that will be searching for mines with their sonars.

Ms. Kennedy: Yes, they are doing that. They are trained to put down markers near where they find an object. And what's important here is that the people doing minesweeping take any object very seriously, because they haven't got time and there is no real way for them to go and look at everything. So that when they find something, they blow it up.

Ms. Ward: How many days have they been at the mine-sweep?

Ms. Kennedy: They have been sweeping for quite some weeks actually. When I was out on the Constellation, that was one of the first things that was mentioned to us, that they had been out more in the Gulf area near the mouth of the waterway that goes up to Umm Qasr. And they were very happy that they had managed to prevent any genuine mining of the exterior of the waterway. So, they have kept things down to a dull roar, you might say, and have been quite successful.

It's just that they're concerned because they know Iraq had a lot of mines. They know that some mines were deployed. They find evidence that mines had been places that mines are no longer now, in storage areas. So, they can't take any chances; they want to know where all those mines might be. And that's why they're being so meticulous.

Ms. Ward: So, the minesweeping operation began weeks before the war?

Ms. Kennedy:It began weeks ago. Oh, yes, it began before the war.