The Importance of Humanitarian Underwater Demining

By Mr. Veselin Mijajlović, Director of Regional Center for Divers Training and Underwater Demining

About the Regional Center for Underwater Demining

The Regional Diving Center for Underwater Demining and Divers Training (abbreviated name: RCUD) based in Montenegro, is an organization owned by the Government of Montenegro and is the only civilian institution in Europe that performs underwater demining and training of divers for underwater demining. In addition to the Government of Montenegro, the establishment of RCUD twenty years ago and its development were supported by the EU and US governments. The RCUD’s vision is to provide support in ensuring the safe use of underwater assets by contributing to the development and prosperity of countries facing the issue of underwater explosive remnants after war conflicts. RCUD realizes its mission through the implementation of projects related to the safe use of water resources, supporting the development of national and regional capacities in the identification, development, and implementation of projects related to underwater demining and removal of explosives and obstacles underwater. It promotes regional and bilateral cooperation through joint projects and the integration of underwater demining projects. One of the most complex tasks in the field of demining is the removal of explosives from the water bottom that are left behind after various war conflicts and pose a danger to the use of water resources for economic development and construction of infrastructure and other facilities. Thanks to the implemented activities in the field of humanitarian underwater demining, RCUD became the first and most eminent organization in the world for training underwater deminers and underwater demining.

The Problem of the UXO Left Behind Under the Water in Montenegro

Montenegro had a problem with unexploded ordnance (UXO) left behind at the sea bottom after the conflicts of the First and Second World Wars, especially in the coastal zones where naval military bases in the Bay of Kotor, in Tivat and Kumbor, used to be located. RCUD’s underwater deminers have detected and removed an estimate of 27 tons of unexploded ordnance from the seabed of military bases in Tivat and Kumbor. The RCUD team managed to cover approximately 900,000 square meters and, thus, ensure the safe development of “Porto Montenegro” and “Porto Novi”, two exceptionally beautiful tourist resorts built in place of the former military bases. In addition, our mine divers have detected and removed approximately 65 tons of various unexploded ordinance, left behind after the Second World War, from the seabed at the Strait of Verige, the narrowest place of the Boka Bay of Kotor. Similar to these underwater demining projects in Montenegro, our underwater deminers have performed underwater demining operations in various countries around the world, where they have demined over 3 million square meters and removed over 200 tons of various unexploded ordnance from the water body bottom.

Security and Strategic Aspects and the Importance of Humanitarian Underwater Demining

The security and strategic aspects and the importance of underwater humanitarian demining are measureless for organizations dealing with security affairs and for countries whose strategic commitment is the development of oceanside tourist destinations. After the wars that took place in the previous century in Europe and other continents, unexploded mines and other ordnance have been left behind in huge numbers, which poses a great threat to the population. In addition to humanitarian work, their removal is of great importance for the economic recovery of war-torn countries. It is especially important to emphasize the security aspect. Explosives found in unexploded ordnance and other munitions left underwater can be visualized and considered as a self-service shop for organized crime and terrorism. The explosive material extracted from mines and other explosive devices can be misused in criminal and terrorist activities. States facing the problem of residual unexploded ordnance underwater, need to have full control over underwater humanitarian demining operations to be carried out exclusively by state-owned organizations that employ professional divers trained in underwater demining, and who have undergone biographical security checks. It should certainly be noted that almost all navies around the world have units engaged in underwater demining, but it should also be emphasized that military underwater deminers are mainly engaged in removing underwater mines for their own needs and safe passage of military vessels.

Brief Overview of the History and Emergence of Underwater Mines

Underwater mines are explosive devices intended to damage and sink ships, submarines, and other vessels or to prevent them from using a certain territory. Underwater mines first came out in the west in the 16th century, but their use in naval warfare operations is linked to the American Revolution during which an American wooden submarine planted primitive mines around British ships anchored in New York Harbor. The massive use of underwater mines began during the First World War when British and later American troops planted tens of thousands of mines to stop German ships and submarines, while the Germans planted mines in British coastal waters. Allied troops lost 568 ships to damage caused by underwater mines and the German navy lost 150 ships and 40 submarines. During the Second World War, between 600.000 and 1.000.000 submarine mines were placed and effectively destroyed 650 allied ships and 1.100 ships belonging to the Axis powers. Underwater mines were also used in huge numbers in the wars fought globally after the Second World War. For example, during the Iraq-Iran conflict in the period of 1980-1988, both warring parties intensively planted mines in the Persian Gulf, and later Iraq continued to mine certain areas of the Gulf. For example, during the Tanker War (1987), the American frigate USS Samuel B. Roberts was almost sunk after being hit by a Russian-made underwater mine. The damage caused to the ship on that occasion was estimated at $96 million, while the average cost per mine is estimated at $1.500. In the same waters in 1991, the helicopter carrier USS Tripoli was damaged by an Iraqi contact mine, as well as another small American ship. The total damage amounted to approximately $110 million. The efficiency of underwater mines is evidenced by the fact that after the Second World War, underwater mines damaged 14 ships of the US Navy, while air attacks and artillery fire managed to inflict damage to only four ships.

Indernational Activities Related to Underwater Demining

Since the early 1990s, the international community has made a firm commitment and taken concrete steps to mitigate the effects of mines and other explosive devices on vulnerable countries and peoples. So far, however, relatively little attention has been paid to underwater demining. One of the reasons for this situation is that, unlike land demining, there is still no coordinated action at the international level to remove underwater mines. The United Nations Inter-Agency Mine Action Strategy for 2006-2010 does not directly mention the problem of underwater mines but takes note of explosive remnants leftover from war activities. In this respect, the mentioned Strategy, as well as the Millennium Development Goals, may serve as a basis for promoting the need for coordinated international action to remove and destroy unexploded ordnance and other underwater obstacles that affect the safe use of the sea, rivers, and lakes.

AUTHOR


Mr Veselin Mijajlović is currently the Director of the Regional Center for Divers Training and Underwater Demining since 2004. He has also held positions as an Instructor of diving in the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit of the Ministry of Interior of Montenegro between 1992 and 2000 and as Commander of the Diving Unit of the Ministry of Interior of Montenegro from 1992 until 2004. He is also a holder of a master’s degree in Sports Science, and he has received numerous awards and recognitions during his career.