The BACTEC team is now fully deployed in the Falkland Islands clearing three minefields: two in the vicinity of Mile Pond and Mullet creek and the third south of the water tanks on the Stanley to Darwin and Goose Green Road. The mine-clearance project for these areas should be over by the end of March.
A number of anti personnel mines have been located and these are to be destroyed on 16th February 2013 in a planned controlled demolition In addition to clearing these minefields BACTEC is also carrying out more land release work on Stanley Common within the fenced area north of the Mile Pond to the south of the Falklands’ capital.
Thousands of antipersonnel mines remain in the Falkland Islands, a legacy from the Argentine military invasion of 1982, particularly around Stanley which was to be the stronghold against the British Task Force sent to recover the Islands.
On Sunday February 17 BACTEC will be processing Minefield 28 which lies just on the north side of the Stanley to Goose Green and Darwin road. This minefield was cleared in 1982 but up to now no verification has been carried out and the minefield is still classified as dangerous and fenced.
The BACTEC team is made up of fifty experts in mine clearance from Zimbabwe with vast experience all over the world and have been working basically hand-digging down to 20 centimetres and moving at a rate of between four, five or six metres a day per person. This is to help get an exact idea of the 32 metres panels which normally hold 16 mines and are the set-out of the minefields in the Falklands.
Technical Projects Manager for BACTEC Paul McCarthy admits Argentine records of the mined areas are not entirely reliable, since they were made at a time of heightened problems and the translations by the British in some parts make assumptions.
“It can be quite frustrating and from both sides (Argentine and British) because records were made at a time when there were heightened problems and so the accuracy has proven to be a little bit out especially on things like bearings. We need to unlock that intellectually. But on the same side of that is the fact the British have done the translations in ’82 and ’86 and again in the early ‘90’s and some of the information they’ve take from the Argentine records is they’ve made assumptions and that’s proven to be quite difficult as well, but it just adds to the fun to be honest” admitted McCarthy.
However for the Zimbabweans de-miners working in the Falklands is one of the nicest places in the world for this kind of job. The threat in the Islands is negligible compared to say with Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Mozambique where many of them have been posted recently.
“To be honest, they love it. Even just things like being able to go for a coffee or a beer at the end of the week, it’s just a big morale boost to these guys. Besides they’ve been down here on two other projects and they were really accepted by the community.
People have told us it’s really nice to have us back, and the guys are really happy to be back as well” pointed out McCarthy.
The only draw back in the Falklands is the weather, particularly the wind and slippery ground.
McCarthy said that “the guys have been digging the ground so they are walking on slippery soil and the lanes into the fields are only a metre wide, and when on the job you have the demining apron on which is their body armour, a gust of wind behind picks it up like a sail and we don’t want them stepping our of the cleared areas”.
BACTEC is scheduled to process the area within the minefield fence using the remote controlled armoured flail assisted by a number of de-miners. However as the flail may throw rock onto the road, traffic control measures will be in operation during February 17 from 7am to 7pm for the safety of road users.
Overall, the program is progressing well and it is expected that it will be completed by 24 March releasing an additional 900,000 square metres for public use while at the same time reducing the number of remaining minefields by four. (PN/FIRS)
(*) BACTEC is a UK based company which stands for: Battle Area Clearance, Training, Equipment and Consultancy Group.