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Trained sea lions help U.S. Fifth Fleet detect Iraqi mines

Thursday, January 30, 2003

ABU DHABI The U.S. Fifth Fleet has deployed sea lions to help detect and defuse Iraqi mines meant for U.S. naval vessels operating around the Gulf.

U.S. Central Command said the sea lions were trained to recover unarmed practice mines after naval exercises and were brought to Manama. The command's naval forces said the California sea lions will apprehend insurgents who try to place mines on or near U.S. warships whether on land or in sea.

"They can run on land as fast as a human and can swim at 40 kilometers an hour for short bursts, making them ideal for quickly attaching restraint devices to divers underwater and then swimming away at high speed as security forces move in to apprehend the restrained diver almost immediately," Central Command said in a statement.

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U.S. military forces in the Gulf have been on alert for Iraqi or Al Qaida attacks amid the current allied buildup in the region, Middle East Newsline reported. Most of the anti-U.S. attacks have so far been reported in Kuwait.

Central Command said the sea lions can quickly detect and locate sound underwater as well as spot divers underwater. So far, the navy has used them in training exercises with divers and dolphins but Central Command will place the sea lions with its harbor patrol unit.

"It is estimated the sea lions save the navy and taxpayers more than a million dollars annually by locating and attaching recovery lines to practice mines that would otherwise be lost and thus require replacement," the statement said. "Like military working dogs, California sea lions are easy to work with and provide a number of capabilities valuable to the navy."

Central Command said the introduction of sea lions is part of what it termed anti-terrorism measures allocated for demonstration in Bahrain. The command said the sea lions will operate around U.S. naval ships anchored in Manama's harbor as part of the Shallow-Water Intruder Detection System.

In Washington, the U.S. Coast Guard announced the deployment of eight cutters, comprised of 600 personnel, to the Gulf. The Coast Guard would help protect naval vessels from sabotage and insurgency attack.

"Clearly, there's a real threat there," Gen. Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said.

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