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HIS is the dramatic moment several tonnes of ordnance exploded sending rivulets
of fi re and a million pieces of charred and scarred metal hurtling through the
desert night.
And a matelot was pressing the button...
For the fi rst time, a team of Royal Navy divers are heading the Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team at
Basra airbase, the hub of British operations in southern Iraq.
The team is led by Lt Jason White (of Southern Diving Group in Portsmouth), aided by CPO Willie Sharp
and Diver 1 ‘Screech’ Whiting (both from the Northern Diving Group in Faslane).
All three are qualifi ed clearance divers, specialising in underwater demolitions and disposal.
The only substantial water at Basra, however, is the Shatt al Arab, the central vein of Iraq which runs
into the northern Gulf, 40 miles to the south.
So this isn’t exactly typical work for the divers.
Then again, a bomb is a bomb...
Five years after the fall of Saddam, there remain vast quantities of unexploded ordnance in Iraq
– the sort of thing you really do not want falling into the insurgents’ hands.
Indeed, there were more than six tonnes of munitions to get rid of at the Basra Operations
Centre alone.
The operations centre – the former Shatt al Arab Hotel in northern Basra – is the HQ of
the Iraqi Army in the city.
It’s also the place where all the ordnance bagged by security operations – as well as
some handed in by locals – was stored awaiting disposal.
All manner of weapons had been collected at the hotel: Iranian-made rockets,
mines, components of roadside bombs.
They could not, of course, be blown up in the heart of a metropolis.
So they were carefully packed into containers, driven out into the desert and
blasted to eternity in a series of controlled explosions.
“By getting rid of six tonnes of unexploded ordnance we achieved two things
– we made the operations centre a much safer place and we’ve reduced the
scale of the problem, making it easier for the Iraqi Army to deal with what
remains,” said Lt White.
Typically, RN divers deal with any unexploded ordnance found below
the high-water mark around UK shores.
“In Iraq we have more of a generic role, dealing with disposal of
ammunition and ordnance alongside our counterparts from the
other two Services,” Lt White explained.
“This has been a really good opportunity for
clearance divers to show our capabilities to the
wider bomb disposal community, and once
again this is a good example of the Royal
Navy punching above its weight.”
The team has been deployed to Iraq
for a six-month tour – and not all its
disposal work is high and dry.
Some of the munitions at the
Shatt al Arab hotel were blown
up the more usual RN way –
underwater, courtesy of piers
which run into the river.
FFiriree in the night in the night
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