"Navy ships in the Persian Gulf have headed off an attempt to mine the main entrance to Iraq's principal port, seizing three tugboats carrying more than 130 mines," the Virginian-Pilot reports.The seized mines included "contact" mines, which float on or near the water's surface and explode when struck, and "influence" mines, which are detonated by sound or vibration from ships passing nearby.Clearing mines in coastal waters is an acknowledged Navy weakness.
The service has purchased a fleet of about two dozen mine-hunting and mine-clearing vessels and converted the amphibious assault ship Inchon into a mine countermeasures command ship. But the Inchon was crippled by an engine room fire in 2001 and later decommissioned. The Navy is in the process of leasing an Australian-built catamaran to serve as a countermine command ship. In a report last year, the House Armed Services Committee noted that deficiencies in mine warfare have been the subject of a series of reports by the General Accounting Office, Congress' watchdog agency. The committee pumped an additional $18 million into the Navy's budget for research and development of new countermine equipment.