Surveys prepare Bougainville for removal of unexploded bombs
Groundwork for another Pacific chapter of Operation Render Safe in Bougainville.
The groundwork for an operation in Bougainville to remove unexploded Second World War bombs is underway, with two Australian ships surveying the sea.
The HMAS Shepparton and the HMAS Benalla are doing a hydrographic survey so that Operation Render Safe can carry out its mission later this year.
Alex Perrottet filed this report.
Bougainville was a pivotal theatre of war, changing hands in 1943, as the United States landed at Torakina, losing four landing craft to the shallows on the west-coast. Earlier, they had made several dive bombing raids with a marine fighter squadron. Once under allied control, the Japanese visited from Rabaul for ten nights in a row in December 1943 and bombed the airstrip at Buka.
The Australian High Commissioner to Papua New Guinea, Deborah Stokes, says the hydrographic survey will look at the sea from Torakina up to Buka.
DEBORAH STOKES: I haven't been there myself, but I've seen photographs and it takes your breath away really, seeing piles of bombs as long as about six feet and piles of them, and then there's a whole range of other material that's there and of course that gets in the way of people using that area for their livelihoods, and its just, you know, dangerous.
The business manager of the Buka Port, Joe Turi, says the area could be used as fishing grounds but locals are afraid to do so.
JOE TURI: I think in the past the locals used to use those as a fishing ground, for them to get fish and sell it to market. They used to see those items in the sea, the World War Two bombs and also the other items, and we feel it is a danger to our lives.
Last year, Operation Render Safe disposed of more than 12,000 items in the Solomon Islands, including 1000-pound bombs, and grenades. Commodore Brett Brace, who is the Australian Hydrographer, says the ships are detecting items on the sea floor so the vessels that come later can navigate safely.
BRETT BRACE: They're fitted with the latest multi-beam sonars and positioning technology, to enable them to effectively sweep the sea bed using sound, so sonar, to look for navigation hazards such as coral reefs, bombies, wrecks, to make sure that they can declare an area safe for shipping.
Commodore Brace says he will turn the information into updated navigational charts. He says it's part of a broader programme to help PNG in its data collection and charting, under a memorandum of understanding with Australia
BRETT BRACE: Once we do put new routes and safer routes on charts it tends to sort of increase the traffic flow, so our primary role as the Australian Hydrographic Service is to work with Papua New Guinea in general on improving their capacity to trade in the maritime domain by improving their shipping.
Joe Turi says he's grateful to Australia for its help, but there's plenty of ordnance all around the island.
JOE TURI: It's going to be a very very great help you know to the fishing ground, especially for the locals, so we really appreciate. I think a lot of World War Two all over the north coast of the island.
Commodore Brace says this is one step and just a start in a long mission to remove the dangerous remnants of war from the Pacific islands.
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