Vanuatu signals assistance needed on unexploded ordnance
Vanuatu signals it will take action on unexploded ordnance and ask for international assistance.
The Vanuatu Government says it will most likely ask for international advice on how to act on the unexploded bombs in the Port Vila Harbour.
The New Zealand Navy visited this year and confirmed bombs are sitting on the harbour floor.
But the removal of ordnance is risky and there are conflicting views on how much a threat it is to citizens and tourists.
Alex Perrottet reports.
The New Zealand Navy acted on local advice, did a search, and found three bombs in the harbour. The commanding officer of the Navy's Operational Diving Team, Lieutenant Commander Trevor Leslie says there are different ways of approaching them.
TREVOR LESLIE: A lot of the ordnance we are finding is still in a live or dangerous state. The items in Vanuatu Harbour are about 21 metres, that's relatively deep, so it's a real vast problem and it comes with lots of association risks as well.
The Director General of the Vanuatu Ministry of Foreign Affairs Johnny Koanapo says action on the bombs in Port Vila Harbour is necessary, but says he hasn't seen the New Zealand Navy report yet.
JOHNNY KOANAPO: Unexploded ordnance are still there and they will have to be removed. So the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is aware of that. I am not sure whether the report has been finalised and sent over the Vanuatu Government but if the report has been sent then we will need to look at it and the recommendations and the Government will certainly have to do something about it.
Although the problem is not nearly as bad as Solomon Islands, which has had thousands of bombs removed in recent operations, Mr Koanapo is convinced something must be done. The bombs were originally discovered by the dive operators Big Blue. Part-owner Mike Crawford says there was also a 44-gallon drum of live rounds that burst open in a cyclone.
MIKE CRAWFORD: After a big cyclone we had it had burst open. It was just full of 50-calibre bullets as if they were brand new. And they were just spilled all over the bottom of the ocean, but they've since been all covered over. And then the bombs, they found one about three years ago and then they found another five. You know they've been there a long time.
Mr Crawford says further north around Espiritu Santo, where the SS President Coolidge wreck lies, there could also be ordnance, but that's part of the attraction for divers. The Chairman of the Santo Tourism Association, Dave Cross, is adamant it is not an issue, and cleaning up Million Dollar Point, where the US army dumped tonnes of trucks and machinery, would be madness.
DAVE CROSS: Santo or Luganville was never a theatre of war, it was a huge American base and I am sure there are one or two shells lying around. I am not aware in the 17 years I've been here of anybody being injured by exploding ordnance. I am not aware of anybody finding any unexploded bombs.
But police Senior Sergeant Jimilton Tabi says he's concerned, and the sooner the foreign ministry asks for international advice, the better.
JIMILTON TABI: We have unexploded ordnance of bombs, we have rocket missiles and bullets, other stuff that they left behind during World War Two, and they're not cleared, they are everywhere on Santo. On Million Dollar Point, people say it's safe, but I think it's not safe. You have bullets all over the place on the reefs and they have vehicles in the sea. And also it's dangerous to sea creatures.
The US had an air base on Santo, and returned last year to remove the bones of deceased pilots. The head of the Sanma Provincial Council Sakaraia Daniel says a proper study should be done, and the US should either provide evidence the ordnance is safe, or help remove it.
SAKARAIA DANIEL: We think it's proper that maybe the US should listen and should accept and should dialogue with us as to how we can better landscape this place for the benefit of everybody who comes in.
Lieutenant Commander Leslie says there's a lot of work underway in the Pacific, and they're returning to Solomon Islands next month.
TREVOR LESLIE: There's ordnance everywhere, it's a real problem. And it's something that the Australian Defence Force and the New Zealand Defence Force are working consistently to help the South West Pacific community really. Like I say, in November, it will be the fourth time in the South West Pacific doing this in the last two years.
He says the information on the Port Vila bombs was provided to his superiors, but he has not yet heard of any plans to return to remove them.
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