Black Sea grain exports have been hampered by explosives, with devastating consequences for the world’s poorest people as food prices rise
By Dominic Nicholls, DEFENCE AND SECURITY EDITOR
27 August 2022 •
The UK will donate six submersibles to help Ukraine clear its coastline of Russian mines to allow the safe passage of civilian ships carrying grain CREDIT: Heathcliff O’Malley
Britain is training Ukrainian soldiers in how to use mine-hunting drones that will be used to clear the port of Odesa.
The UK will donate six submersibles to help Kyiv clear its coastline of Russian mines to allow the safe passage of civilian ships carrying grain.
Three will be provided from UK stocks, with a further three to be purchased from industry.
Dozens of Ukrainian personnel will be taught to use the Remus 100 autonomous minehunting vehicles by the Royal Navy’s Diving and Threat Exploitation Group (DTXG) along with specialists from the US Navy 6th Fleet.
The first three-week training course is already underway at a Royal Navy base in England.
‘It’s important for peaceful life and international shipping’
Speaking exclusively to The Telegraph, Vasyl, the commander of the unit, said the de-mining mission will be “crucial to Ukraine”.
“In Ukraine we will immediately use the drone to de-mine areas in [Odesa] close to infrastructure. The current situation is very difficult. We will need at least ten years to clear all our regions with the war still going on.
“We are just looking to clear Odesa right now. The Odesa region is primary. It is very important for a peaceful life and for international shipping.”
Russia has been weaponising food by destroying Ukrainian agriculture and blockading the country’s Black Sea ports to prevent exports, with devastating consequences for the world’s poorest people as food prices rise.
A small number of ships carrying grain have left Ukraine since the UN brokered a deal in July to allow food exports, but efforts to get food out of the country continue to be hampered by sea mines left by Russian forces along Ukraine’s coast.
Andrii, one of the Ukraiian bomb disposal team, said Remus will be used to look for munitions in fairly shallow water by scanning the seabed with sonar.
“It is not suitable for looking for Russian submarines,” he added. “Remus is a paramount piece of equipment because it saves our divers lives.”
The Remus 100 submersible drone is designed for use in shallow coastal environments, operating at depths of up to 100m where it can locate mines using sonar sensors.
Any mines can then be destroyed in place or moved to a safe area to be blown up.
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said: “Russia’s cynical attempts to hold the world’s food supply to ransom must not be allowed to succeed.
“This vital equipment and training will help Ukraine make their waters safe, helping to smooth the flow of grain to the rest of the world and supporting the Armed Forces of Ukraine as they look to defend their coastline and ports.”
Lieutenant James Carpenter, a member of DTXG, said Remus can cover a much larger area than a team of divers.
“We are more the finishing product of the destroy function,” he said.
“The sea is a very big place. To search these large areas you need autonomous vehicles with a side-scanning sonar to locate objects either on the seabed or tethered to something in the water that could potentially do harm.
“A lot of this stuff is located on the seabed and is very difficult to find.”
Once located, either a second drone with a camera or a diver is used to identify the object and prepare it for destruction if necessary. The mine hunting mission in Odesa will “prove the route” for the civilian grain cargoes.
“It’s like a dredged area, a clear area they can use to get this grain and important shipping out of Ukraine,” Lt Carpenter said. “That’s the important thing.”
Mines on the seabed do not detach to float up and physically hit ships passing above them.
Instead, once they detect a ship they detonate. The resultant “bubble pulse effect” multiplies the blast as the exploding gases ascend towards the surface.
“It can break the back of ships,” Lt Carpenter said. “It can be catastrophic for shipping in coastal waters.”
The Remus 100 is about 1.6m long and shaped like a torpedo. It has no explosive elements, but carries two side-scanning sonars.
Once programmed on a ship or shore base, the drone searches an area in a racetrack pattern. It is able to detect suspicious items as small as footballs.
The data and imagery produced are then analysed to decide whether any “mine-like contacts” have been identified.
Admiral Sir Ben Key, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, said: “Through the expert skills being taught here, our Ukrainian allies will be able to clear their own waters of mines.
“These weapons target shipping indiscriminately, but particularly affect civilian traffic and trade and have had a devastating impact on freedom of navigation in the Black Sea.
“This training is another powerful demonstration of the UK’s ongoing commitment to Ukraine in their fight to defend their country and repel Russian aggression.”
‘This is war. But victory will be with us’
Andrii said the team had paused briefly to mark Ukraine’s Independence Day on Aug 24.
“Deep inside we do celebrate,” he said, “but we understand how important this process is and how short the time is for us to learn. We see Russia as a terrorist country.
“We will fight until we have recovered all our territory, Crimea and all our territories Donetsk and Luhansk as well. My family is there, my friends are there. Victory is going to be with us.”
Vasyl agreed. “We try to celebrate in our souls, but we still feel for our civilian community.
“My message to the whole Ukrainian nation is: be strong, be patient. It is not an easy job. This is war. But victory will be with us.”