Special Report - Liveridge 4x4 Defenders and Staff Mine Clearing in Sudan
We were approached by TDI a company specialising world wide in the clearing and removal of mines. There staff are highly specialised in the defusing and detonation of all types of land mines and have experience in all the worlds mine Hot Spots in conjunction with the United Nations.
3 Discoveries, 1 90 Defender and 18 110 Defenders, all 300 TDI, Re-painted White, heavy duty suspension, steering guard, diff protector, roof rack, sand ladders, rear wheel arch mods on the discoveries, high lift jack, fire extinguishers, first aid kit, winch and accessory packs. All vehicles where fully work shop pre-pared and designed for hard work.
The vehicles were produced at 2 per week and loaded in containers at our premises after vagarious road testing.
All vehicles were 300 TDI
To keep spare parts uniform and more importantly avoiding the TD5 models for two reasons:-
No 1 . Ease and simplicity of maintenance.
No 2 The conditions described were certainly not suitable for the complex electronics of the TD5.
These vehicles were to work hard and would be a key part of the Sudan operations, carrying personnel, equipment to and from mine fields; they are also used for general transport for operations controllers.
Mr Steve Hyatt the companies Transport and logistics Manager and Mr Edward Cross one of TDI’s Managing Directors who are both Land Rover owners and enthusiasts,
visited our premises initially and after discussing the vehicles we designed them , to best suit vehicles usage and terrain they would encounter.
An order for 20 vehicles and spares container was placed.
On completion of the vehicles I was asked to go to Juba, Sudan to do Mechanical and Driver training with one of my mechanics.
I took my workshop foreman Michael Parkes as we were asked if we could do some fabrication work on some vehicles and were given one week in which to complete all the training etc…
We were accompanied by Steve Hyatt who was to inspect the vehicles and do an intensive winching course/ driver training.
We flew via Nairobi to Juba, the blown up aeroplane that has missed the run way was a little un-nerving. On arrival we began training and organising repairs.
The roads are some of the worst in the world and the worst I have ever encountered.
From washboard to more holes than road to mud and rocks to dust limiting visibility to 2 meters when in convoy.
All our vehicles had been driven approximately 12000 miles to there destinations and had faired very well with only minimal damage due to the conditions.
Sudan is split into North and South and is experiencing a suspension of there ongoing civil war.
There is still a great deal of tension and there is an abundance of AK47’s on every street corner.
Whilst we were in the country there was a lock down in Juba implemented forcibly with a strict curfew whilst the military confiscated guns from surrounding buildings and huts.
The vehicles were constantly checked by the Sudanese with bomb/mine detectors when entering the UN camp.
The Bangladeshi UN forces were in Juba at the time of our visit .
We were situated at the TDI Head Quarters near the town centre. Sudan is a poor country and the extreme poverty is evident everywhere with open sewers, contaminated water and diseases prevalent.
Juba is in African terms a very expensive town due to it inaccessibility , literary one road in and out that is constantly blocked and shut, This does nothing to help the poverty it is a very sad site to see children rummaging through rubbish.
Sudan also has one of the most deadly forms of malaria.
We were camped in tents within the TDI Camp.
The food was fair mostly goat and rice dishes.
On day 2 we were asked if we would go south to Yei to inspect another batch of our vehicles destined to go to various mine action sites and bring back 2 vehicles to base camp.
Yei is only approximately 170KM from Juba but conditions were horrendous with 15 miles per hour the norm. Heavy storms constantly wash out the road and collapse dilapidated bridges being the only supply route, there is an abundance of broken down lorries in various states of repair and some stuck to there axles in mud. The problem is the complete road is mined on either side, so you cannot just drive around obstacles, you have to carefully squeeze and navigate cautiously sometimes having to drive in 4ft and 5ft ridges full of mud and obstacles in low diff lock at a much faster pace than you would normally traverse such obstacles. The reason for speed was simple firstly in most cases it would be the only way with the vehicles grounding out to actually keep momentum and secondly this is not a place to hang around when you did stop men appeared with machetes and other weapons and car jacking etc… is common place.
I was thank full of our UN number places, I was driving a prepared discovery and after a whole life around Land Rovers I still found it amazing what this vehicles was capable of.
The winches fitted were an absolute necessity, being constantly used to keep slow progress maintained.
We were heading for the Norwegian peoples aid camp again under supervision of the UN. After 8 ½ hrs we arrived at Yei a small town predominately mud due to the increased altitude and bizarre weather, baking hot then torrential rain, at one point hail stones some the size of golf balls. Yei is approximately 100 miles from the Congo border. The approach road to the camp was up a ½ a mile steep hill. The 110’s made it to the top without to many problems but due to the discoveries lower ground clearance, the only way to get up this was full blast getting stuck was not an option. Unfortunately sat next to me was a 6ft 7” Dinka Warrior as our armed guard he had an AK47 on his lap bouncing around and I had reminisces of Pulp Fiction as we bounced and crashed our way to the top of the hills
The next day was spent doing required modifications and checking the vehicles for there next leg of there journey to the wau mine fields.
Torrential thunder storms persisted most of the night and I began to be concerned that our return route to Juba would be blocked and road closed so I made the decision to leave at first light as our flight out was only 2 days away with no means of communication we could not inform anyone of our whereabouts back home and at this point I envisaged being cut off half way when the road is closed it is manned by armed SPLA or Sudanese police blocks.
We set off with provisions of water and water purification equipment.
We only managed ½ mile before the discovery was stuck so deep in ruts and mud that I could not open the doors to get out, with broken down vehicles every where and locals milling around we tried to winch the vehicle free to no avail. We were going back with 3 vehicles and the only way to unstick the discovery was a double tow using both 110’s on extended ropes.
When free I found that the rear axle brake pipe had been severed by logs in the mud so a temporary fix was made by blanking off the rear flexi giving functional front brakes without further fluid loss.
Progress was very slow we had to edge and weave our way around the many stuck Lorries. The roads were spine jarring and took all your concentration to negotiate vehicles and collapsed roads. Always conscious never to stray off the existing road because of mines, with torrential rain at some points making visibility poor and torrents of water rushing over the road at points it was difficult to see where road finished and mine fields began.
After a gruelling 9 hours we finely arrived back a Juba completely exhausted and glad to climb under mosquito nets.
The next day was spent doing further mechanical training and Mick got the nice job of ark welding roof rack supports in the blistering Africa sun. The air port at Juba is little more than a shack and is quite a menacing place with security tight and an air of imamate arrest. We were very glad to climb aboard the dilapidated aeroplane after Steve Hyatt ploughing through all our UN passes and official paper work to get us clearance to leave the country.
The work that TDI are doing all over the most dangerous and needy areas of the world are tremendous. There teams of extremely brave personnel are in constant danger and work tirelessly to make huge areas safe to replant crops and tend cattle etc…
They have long periods away from home and the risks they take are far more than mine clearance considering the disease and danger in such places.
I have the greatest admiration for these people as after just one week I was very glad to be back behind my Liveridge desk.