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Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 March, 2003, 10:28 GMT
Aid ship delay after mines found
British troops load Sir Galahad with supplies
The aid is a gift from the people of Kuwait
The first ship bringing humanitarian aid to Iraq has been delayed for a further 24 hours because of the discovery of two mines in the waterway.

The British ship, Sir Galahad, is carrying 500 tons of emergency food, blankets, clothing and fresh water.

It was due to dock in the Iraqi port of Umm Qasr on Thursday, paving the way for more supplies to follow.

But the British Royal Navy has confirmed it has been delayed after the discovery of two mines, found outside the areas of water already "swept" by clearance teams.

Air Marshal Brian Burridge, Commander of the British Forces in the Gulf, said the mines had now been detonated.

It is the second time the ship has been delayed after its original arrival scheduled for Wednesday was hampered by bad weather.

The locals clambered aboard and began throwing the supplies out of the back
BBC foreign affairs correspondent Mike Williams

BBC foreign affairs correspondent Mike Williams told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It was too dangerous to fly helicopters out to the ship carrying one of the essential elements of this operation - the journalists.

"I can't stress enough how keen the military is to show this humanitarian effort.

"It is part of an important message to the people of Iraq."

Air Marshal Burridge said: "Make no mistake, the threat [of mines] is real."

"This proves Saddam's regime has attempted to stop essential stores and humanitarian supplies from being delivered to his own people," he said, adding that it also showed the Iraqi leader's "total disregard" for civilian shipping.

'Drop in the ocean'

Specialised Royal Navy vessels are being used to detect mines, as are specially trained marine life, including dolphins.

Divers from both the British Royal Navy and the Australian Navy were also involved, said Air Marshal Burridge.

Among the Sir Galahad's supplies are water, sugar, lentils, chick peas, rice, tea and milk powder.

Also on board are medical supplies, 2,400 blankets and 8,200 packs of "dislocated civilian" rations.

Dolphin being used to indicate the presence of mines
Dolphins used in search for mines

Once the food is unloaded at Umm Qasr, it will be moved forward to "safe" areas of Iraq.

But the BBC's Matthew Price, on board the HMS Ark Royal in the Gulf, said Sir Galahad's aid was a "drop in the ocean".

It will bring so-called "bolt food" - rice, lentils, chickpeas and water, as well as medical packs.

Before the war, the United Nations estimated 60% of Iraq's 27 million people were dependent on food aid.

It is now feared the country needs the largest humanitarian operation in history.


Chaotic scenes greeted lorries distributing food parcels in Iraq on Wednesday.

Mike Williams told Today a seven-vehicle convoy from the Kuwaiti Red Crescent had been escorted in by the UK military but was hijacked and looted just a few hundred metres over the border.

"The locals clambered aboard and began throwing the supplies out of the back."

Patrick Nicholson, of aid agency Cafod, told the programme he was appalled.

Sir Galahad
A previous Sir Galahad served in the Falklands War

"It was everything you shouldn't do in delivering aid - parcels being thrown off the back of trucks, the strongest getting all the aid and the weakest and most vulnerable, the women and children who have been suffering for the past 12 years, getting nothing."

Humanitarian concerns are mounting in the southern city of Basra, where people have been without electricity and water since Friday.

Mr Nicholson told Today the 1.5 million population was "starting to drink from the river, from open sewers".

"They are going to have dysentery, diarrhoea, possibly cholera."

The Sir Galahad is a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship from Marchwood port near Southampton.

A previous Sir Galahad was bombed in 1982 in the Falklands.

The BBC's Hilary Andersson
"Getting aid to people who need it is going to be a nightmare"

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