Demining in any country has its challenges. Here, the author discusses those faced in Iran, how the deminers overcame the problems and what equipment was used to accomplish demining goals.
The Islamic Republic of Iran
The United Nations classification of mine-affected countries names the Islamic Republic of Iran as one of the world's most affected countries. Historically the northern Persian Gulf area has been called the "cradle of civilization," and Iran contains a number of important historical sites, including the ancient city of Persepolis (or Takht-e-Jamshid), which was destroyed by Alexander the Great in 322 B.C.
There are also many beautiful natural sites like the caves at Ali-Sadr, unusual wildlife and, for many of us, a fascinating culture. Iran is known for its carpets and famous poets, the most well-known in the western world being Hafez and Omar Khayyam.
The mine-affected areas of Iran are primarily in the western border regions, the area that saw most action in the 1980–1988 war with Iraq. The hazardous residue of that war stretches from Abadan on the Persian Gulf to the Turkish border some 600 kilometers (373 miles) north. These contaminated areas incorporate a wide variety of ground types, including swamps, wetlands, marshes, deserts, fertile agricultural land and mountain ranges. The munitions found are common to most mine-affected countries—anti-personnel and anti-tank mines, grenades, mortars, shells, bombs and scatterable munitions—but chemical weapons were also used and their remnants can still be found in some areas.
The southwestern region contains some of the world's richest oil and gas fields, and therefore the removal of mines and munitions to allow oil and gas exploration is one of Iranís top priorities. The vast majority of clearance programs support national and international organizations involved in oil and gas exploration, or support the work of various ministries. Much of the work has been undertaken by the army and the Revolutionary Guard (SEPAH), and in the last few years by MAI,1 the mine action arm of E&I International. These duties have involved two- and three-dimensional seismic tasks, as well as mine and unexploded ordnance clearance operations around wellheads, pipelines, gathering centers and construction sites.
One of the largest projects recently was the clearance, to very exacting standards, of the Azadegan development fields—a massive mine and UXO clearance operation involving three separate contractors. This project also involved an international client2 and an independent organization (MACC International Ltd.) to conduct quality control (monitoring and inspections) to the International Mine Action Standards.3
One six-month MAI task was to clear a large complex (5 square kilometers [2 square miles]), known as the CTEP that would contain an oil- and gas-gathering center, a construction site and the two accommodation areas. In addition, MAI needed to clear more than 48 kilometers (30 miles) of routes for oil, water and gas pipelines. The contract presented a number of challenges:
- Establishing a local workforce that could work to IMAS.
- Selecting high-performance equipment.
- Clearing and flattening defensive structures, which required the removal of more than 700,000 cubic meters (915,565 cubic yards) of uncompacted soil.
- Completing the contract in six months, most of which would be during the winter periods, when the site is subject to periodic flooding.
Training with the large loop array (shallow search up to 1.8 meters [about 6 feet]).
Never before has demining in Iran had to operate to IMAS and, while MAI has operated to these standards, no work in Iran has previously been monitored and inspected by an external (international) organization to the strict specifications of IMAS.
The workforce consisted of several groups, ranging from experienced ex-soldiers to mine- and UXO-clearance novices, and required the integration of personnel from several locations, thus blending different languages (English, Arabic and Farsi), attitudes, knowledge and cultures.
While a number of problems were initially encountered, the successful teams became extremely proficient, working strictly to the standard operating procedures and adapting to the use of advanced technology equipment.
The Selected Equipment
The triple probe with data logger (deep search up to 6 meters [about 20 feet]).
The need for a balanced response combining safety, quality and productivity required the use of special equipment. The Ebinger 2-meter (6.5-foot) large-loop array and the Ebinger 120 triple probe with data logger provided a perfect combination for this particular contract. Both provided a good detection range, were highly effective, and were easily taught and easy to maintain. The data logger and the computer-generated images of the metal objects detected gave the client a visual image of the contamination. The quality-control inspection teams also utilized the data loggers and final inspections provided the client with a clear illustration of the effectiveness of the clearance operation.
A perimeter bund with recently removed positions beyond clearly identified.
Removal of Defensive Positions
It was also necessary to remove more than 100 kilometers (62 miles) of defensive positions, all of which had to be searched with both the loop and the bomb locator in a layered removal system. These defensive positions were contained by large perimeter bunds4 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet) in height, with separate bunds protecting the various vehicles and operational locations (see photo at right). Each of the large compounds contained bunds for elevating the anti-aircraft equipment.
As each layer of soil was checked with detectors, the top meter (3 feet) of soil was removed, and the new surface would be searched again and soil removed until the entire site was flattened. Banks-men5 (see picture below) were utilized to ensure that, during the mechanical removal process, any hazardous munitions could be detected, prior to being moved or blown in situ.
Banks-man with large excavator on one of the hundreds of defensive structures.
Like all project work, this task was not without its frustrations and problems. The local residents included numerous poisonous snakes and scorpions; fortunately, the only snakebite was from a nonpoisonous species—not that we knew at the time, so casualty evacuation was done with some urgency. Bedouins, with their flocks of sheep, cattle and goats, also crossed the area with little regard for our warnings, signs, or instructions and no regard at all for IMAS. Sheep knocked over the posts and ate the tape and string; their owners took the wooden marking pegs as firewood and left behind metal residue, often in areas that had been cleared and were awaiting quality-control inspections. Added to that were winter rains and site flooding.
Farther south, MAI has recently completed a number of seismic clearance operations, requiring the clearance of seismic lines in what the oil industry refers to as a "transition zone." The transition zone contains desert land, swamps with reed beds, and tidal areas—a challenge to any mine and UXO clearance operation. The various channels, streams and massive reed beds create not only clearance problems but also a variety of additional hazards, such as snakes, leeches and insects, plus rapidly rising tides and waves from passing craft.
Clearance and Cutting of Reed Beds in the Abadan Swamps
In the north, work has involved clearance of construction and wellhead locations, flare pits and pipeline routes, and a range of quality-control and/or clearance tasks in support of seismic exploration. This is generally fairly standard clearance work, requiring clearance to varying depths in areas that will eventually support sites for oil and gas extraction, as well as work in support of 2D and 3D seismic operations, requiring battle area clearance and shot point checks.
Cutting seismic lanes through the reed beds near the Persian Gulf.
QC for Seismic Operations Summary
Over the last few years, the gradual increase in the availability of high-tech equipment and the training of company management has created a firm foundation for future projects. MAI operational staff has also assisted both the army and SEPAH by conducting specialist training on Ebingerís high-tech equipment. Over the last few years, MAI has conducted Technical Surveys (which are primarily a simple version of the Environmental Impact Assessments, one of the functions of the environmental side of the company), threat assessments, risk analysis, mine and UXO clearance, quality assurance and QC. Mines and UXO will continue to be a factor for some years to come in the western border regions, and in conjunction with the army and SEPAH, MAI hopes to continue working to rid the country of these remnants of war.
*All photos by MAI.
Eddie Banks is the project director of EOD World Services,1 an E&I Group company involved in environmental (integrating mine action activities), engineering and infrastructural work. He has been operating in the Islamic Republic of Iran since 2002.
- EOD World Services is the services arm of E&I International. MAI
is the E&I
mine action company presently operating with several other E&I companies in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
- Most work in Iran is for a national client. International clients demand IMAS standards and international quality assurance/quality control companies to inspect work.
- For more information on IMAS, see http://www.mineactionstandards.org/imas.htm. Accessed Nov. 4, 2005.
- Embankments are to contain flood water. Bunds are generally used to describe defensive positions, banks of earth and embankments.
- Banks-men stand on the bunds to watch for items of hazardous material that may be dug up.
EOD World Services
An E&I Group Company
No.8, 16th St. Velenjak Ave.
Tel: +98 (21) 2420 670/-671/-894
Fax: +98 (21) 2420 672
Web site: http://www.eandii.com