British Forces Network reports how a specialist de-mining team is clearing and exploding a hoard of land mines from the Falkland Islands landscape – out of more than 30,000 laid the Argentine forces during the 1982 conflict.
Italian SB-81 anti-tank mines, SB-33 anti-personnel mines, Spanish C-3-B anti-tank and P4B anti-personnel mines, American M1 mines and Israeli No 4 and No 6 mines are all among the explosives found and cleared, and in some cases blown up, in the operation.
Many anti-tank and anti-personnel mines are still littered across some parts of the Islands after they were laid by Argentine forces following the invasion that sparked the war in 1982..
Videos and following audio interviews demonstrate how the specialist de-mining team SafeLane Global sift through soil and sand to remove the explosives – and shows a display of the types of mines that they find, remove and defuse, or demolish in a controlled explosion.
The team behind the project, brought in from 2009 to clear the estimated 25,000 mines that remained, have so far cleared about 80 minefields but there is still more work to do before the islands are mine-free.
Technical Director John Hare, and some of the others in the team, told Forces Radio BFBS presenter Chris Keen how some of the work is being carried out, with specialists from around the world including a contingent from Zimbabwe.
“These are the most prevalent mines that we find in the Falklands: There’s the Italian SB81s – this is an anti-vehicle mine, with about five kilograms of explosive, to destroy a vehicle.
“Their little brother is the SB-33 – looks a bit like a poached egg – that’s an anti-personnel mine, it would badly damage a lower limb if you stepped on it.
He also shows Spanish land mines, including a C-3-B, adding: Once again around five kilograms, anti-vehicle, and their little brother is the P4B – fuse and main charge – and they are anti-personnel as well.
”We get an Israeli No 6 – that’s a metal mine, so quite detectable, American M1 beach mines, and we get No 4 anti-personnel mines – they’re Israeli.”
In a series of interviews with Chris Keen, John explains how his team work closely with British Forces South Atlantic Islands as they carry out the clearance, many years after the 1982 Falklands conflict.
The explosives which are used to demolish and burn the mines are provided by Mount Pleasant Complex. He also talks about how the local population of the Falkland Islands support them and welcome them into their community.
David Clarke is a demining survey engineer and is responsible for creating the maps in which the deminers work from. He told us that the team work through any type of weather to get the job done.
David, as can be heard in the audio below, decided to come to the Falklands because of the history, the wildlife and of course to work on such an important project.
SafeLane Global have made sure almost all of the Falklands are completely free of mines and there are only a few fields left to clear.
The process of clearing requires specialized equipment, all of which does a specific job and John talks us through it. Most of the SafeLane Global team members are from Zimbabwe and are highly trained in what they do.
Supervisor Michael and Operations manager Philimon told us about their role in the Falklands and what type of person is required for such a dangerous job like this.
The team work very closely on and off the field and are known to be nicely integrated into the Falklands community. They even have a band called the Zim Harmonies who perform regularly for the local population.
The final minefield in Stanley is Rookery Bay aka beach minefield SA11. It had a mixture of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines across it.
Like the other minefields in the Falklands, this one has taken a number of weeks to clear but it's now complete and we went inside it to see the aftermath and to find out what happens next.
Some of the mines that are recovered cannot be disarmed and will have be destroyed by explosive demolition.
John explains that process... the whole area is actually searched twice.
All of the ground that is dug up by the deminers during the demining process is put back to the way it looked before, well as close as they can get it. The team is tasked to remediate every location they clear.
In the video, John explains how the team uses a Warrior 1400X flexible screening machine, of the kind often used in mining and heavy industry, that separates rock and minerals.
He said: “Basically, it consists of a hopper, a vibrating bed, and three conveyer belts.
“What happens is, we load excavated material into the hopper, that’s fed by conveyer belt. The conveyer belt feeds the material into the screening bed – in there, there’s a number of grills.
“Anything that’s anti-tank mines will stay on the top screen, and come out of the machine along that conveyer belt.
“Anything that is anti-personnel size, will go up the conveyer belt the other side of the machine, and any clean sand, comes out of another conveyer belt.”
John also explains how a digger is used to sift through sand and soil, and piles of “over-gauge material” – the sand and soil that has not passed through the grills of the digger bucket, are then searched by the de-mining teams.
He then shows a cache of mines that have been removed from the landscape in the clearance.
“They’ve been defused where possible, there are a number of mines that can’t be defused – they’ll be destroyed here by demolition.
“Others will be taken away to Pony’s Pass Quarry in small batches and they’ll be burnt there.” He then shows how the mines are placed in a pit before a controlled explosion is carried out.