Divers return from mine exercise

International Mine Countermeasures Exercise team

Front Row: Clearance divers from Fleet Dive Unit (Pacific) participating in International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 13 on the flight deck of USS Ponce, an Austin-class amphibious transport dock, on Sunday, May 12. The Canadian dive team, specializing in Explosive Ordnance Disposal, joined USS Scout, an Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship, to support the neutralization of simulated ordnance during IMCMEX.
Back row: The Canadian Underwater Mine Countermeasures Command Team.

Seven clearance divers from Maritime Forces Pacific have just returned from the Kingdom of Bahrain, where they dove in the warm, clear Persian Gulf during the 2013 International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCM).

The annual gathering of 41 nations and more than 6,500 participants took place May 3-30 to address tactics and practices for maintaining freedom of navigation and open sea lines of communications from the threat of sea mines.

Fleet Diving Unit Pacific’s (FDU (P)) team was the Canadian dive component for the exercise, joining nine other dive teams that specialize in explosive ordnance disposal.

“Divers are usually the last resort in an underwater situation,” says CPO2 Robert DeProy, Operations Chief at FDU (P). “There is a lot of technology used in mine hunting, but when it comes to identifying threats nothing beats a pair of human eyes.”

Divers were posted aboard USS Scout, a United States Navy Avenger-class Mine Hunter, and were on hand to investigate possible mines and strange formations picked up by the ship’s sonar.

“It was a really great experience. Diving in Bahrain is way different than diving here,” said Lt(N) Demetris Mousouliotis, FDU (P) team leader for the exercise. “The water is so warm and so clear that we were diving in a fraction of the equipment we use in our homes waters. The team loved it.”

In the cold Pacific waters clearance divers wear heat retaining suits, but the warm waters of the Persian Gulf demanded different attire.

“We dove wearing thin Neoprene diving suits,” said CPO2 DeProy. “They helped regulate the heat, and they’ll also protect against the jellyfish that are prevalent in the area.”

The team brought tools of their trade, including Canadian Clearance Diving Apparatus, a semi-closed circuit rebreather that is quiet and has a very low magnetic signature, which allows divers to safely approach mines at a depth of 42 metres. They also used the Canadian-developed Shark marine navigator to get to the sea mines, and to maintain their position underwater by using a combination of GPS and forward facing visual sonar.

“Our training is an ongoing process,” said CPO2 DeProy. “The sonar equipment is especially complex, so if we’re not always practicing we can lose that edge.”

Although the use of mines was banned by the 1997 signing of the Ottawa Treaty, existing mines still pose a significant risk to the international community.

“There are a lot of mines left over from past conflicts and disposing of those mines is a huge issue around the world,” says CPO2 DeProy. “What the IMCMEX aims to do is let countries around the world trade exercises and strategies to keep our water as safe as possible.”

Despite the challenges associated with shipping technical and specialized equipment across the globe, Lt(N) Mousouliotis says the event was a success, giving divers a chance to test their skills in foreign waters.

“This is a part of the world that divers may be deployed to, so it’s great to get the experience now,” he says. “We had the opportunity to dive in variable water conditions, with different amounts of equipment, and in high heat conditions. These are all things we may need to know in the future.”

Other Canadian participants
Cdr Paul MacNeill was one of the two Underwater Mine Countermeasures Commanders (UMCMC) and was embarked in USS Ponce. His multi-national UMCM Headquarters had seven people: three RCN watch officers plus liaison officers from France, Germany, Thailand and the U.S. Cdr MacNeill and his team had command and control of the underwater mine countermeasures assets – Unmanned Underwater Vehicle and Explosive Ordnance Disposal dive teams tasked to locate and neutralize exercise underwater ordnance in the South Arabian Gulf. Also in USS Ponce was a Public Affairs Officer and an Intelligence Officer, who provided public affairs and intelligence support to the Capt Glenn Allen of the United States Navy (USN), the Commander of the MCM-focussed Task Group 522, and his staff.

Canada’s contribution also extended off USS Ponce with two operational planning officers ashore with the International Maritime Exercise Force (IMEF) HQ in Bahrain.

IMCMEX 2013 was hosted by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet and included participants from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Estonia, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.

-Shawn O’Hara, Staff Writer
-LS Musgrave, FDU(P)

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