DUBAI // Underwater anti-mine drones will be used in the Arabian Gulf as part of an international naval exercise to improve maritime safety.
About 40 nations are taking part in International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 13, which begins today around Bahrain and strategic Gulf sea lanes.
The largest exercise of its kind in the region, IMCMEX will run until May 30, using the SeaFox, an unmanned underwater vehicle used for mine hunting, rescue and recovery operations by the British and US navies.
About 4ft long and weighing just 40kg, the SeaFox uses homing sonar to detect underwater objects. On-board CCTV cameras feed live images back to the controller by a fibre-optic line. If the object turns out to be a mine, the SeaFoxrams the mine, destroying both the mine and itself.
"This multidisciplinary defence exercise is focused on maritime security for commerce and trade from the port of origin to the port of arrival," said Commodore Simon Ancona of theUS Navy, commander of this year's force.
"Our planners have included events that address more of the security picture than just mines on the high seas."
Concern about Iran's military capabilities, its threats to shut the Strait of Hormuz and attack vessels that sail through it have often heightened tension in the region.
The concentration of shipping vessels and oil tankers also make it a prime target for Somali pirates and terror groups as about a fifth of the world's oil exports pass through the Strait and the Indian Ocean.
The exercise is being hosted by the US Fifth Fleet.
Other participating nations include Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UK.
* With additional reporting by Awad Mustafa