World War II explosives found in Pacific still pose threat
An officer with the Australian Defense Force says it is important to educate people in the Pacific about the dangers posed by old explosives from World War II.
An officer with the Australian Defence Force says it is important to educate people in the Pacific about the dangers posed by old explosives from World War II.
A team of ADF personnel has just returned from Kiribati after disposing a World War II sea mine found in South Tarawa.
The object was discovered beneath a sunken vessel by Fijian workers in Betio Lagoon.
Clearance Diving Team Leader Chief Petty Officer Shaun Elliott spoke to Indira Moala.
SHAUN ELLIOT: Essentially it got reported - Fijian workers found what they believed to be a sea mine and because of the actual masses of explosive remnants of war that's left over there from a huge battle from World War II they cautiously stopped their work on the ship and asked the government for some help to get rid of it.
INDIRA MOALA: What's the danger around these types of explosives being found? and let's say, mishandled by people who didn't really understand and possibly couldn't even recognise what they are?
SE: Yeah, that's a real hazard. Unfortunately, around the Pacific nations, because there were so many battles and so much ammunition and explosive ordnance dropped or even caged and left, local farmers are finding it, local children find them. They play with them - everything from grenades to mines to projectiles. It's quite a real hazard. And unknown what state these are - if they've been fired or if they're armed, because of how old they are - you're not sure of the fusing mechanisms in it, so it's a complete danger. And unfortunately through the islands the locals have found and worked out that they can try and take the explosives from these and make fish bombs out of them and it's a very effective way to catch fish. So by taking fuses off or manipulating these ordnance they're actually blowing themselves up and killing themselves. So the governments of these Pacific Islands have been running an awareness programme to try and educate people to not touch this stuff - even though it's not actually working with the fish bombers. Our assistance which is what we've surveilled Operation Render Safe to do over the last few years, to go around these islands and try and reduce this hazard.
IM: Operation Render Safe, which you just mentioned, what are the most significant interesting objects from World War II that you've found in the operation around the Pacific.
SE: Some of the items we're finding are varied. We were actually working last year in the Solomon Islands on Render Safe 13 with the operational dive team from New Zealand. I mean they found 1600 pound aircraft bombs only 100 metres from shore where we'd actually set up camp [laughs].
IM: Wow, so this is really close to where people are living
SE: Yeah, they certainly are. I've found torpedoes stuck inside of reefs that are only fifty metres from a whole village with thousands of people in it. And the kids swim next to them every day you know what I mean. That was their reef and what they lived off. That's why we try and effectively engage in really good community engagement around all these islands. Wherever we go, if it's Papua New Guinea, Kiribati. And the benefit of that is the locals all know where this stuff is. Some of them will walk you half a day in the middle of the jungle and you got no idea how they know where they're going but they certainly do. And there's one tree in the middle of 500,000 of them and they go "Right there and there's a bomb next to it". They're quite amazing people. They know where everything is and that's why community engagement is quite a vital asset for us to try and engage in as well.
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