Solomon Islands rendered safer

Published on LEUT Tony White (author), ABIS Nicolas Gonzalez (photographer)

Location(s): Solomon Islands

Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers and US Navy contingent (middle) depart HMAS Tarakan to begin explosive ordnance disposal preparations in Russell Islands during Operation RENDER SAFE. (photo: ABIS Nicolas Gonzalez)
Royal Australian Navy Clearance Divers and US Navy contingent (middle) depart HMAS Tarakan to begin explosive ordnance disposal preparations in Russell Islands during Operation RENDER SAFE.

Operation RENDER SAFE, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) mission in Solomon Islands has been a “spectacular success” according to the head of the Task Force Commander, Commander Doug Griffiths.
 
Commander Griffiths said the team located more than 10,000 items of unexploded World War II ordnance in just three weeks, finishing on December 2.
 
The operation consisted of a Task Force of nearly 200 Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists and support staff from the ADF, New Zealand Defence Force, Canadian Armed Forces, the United States Navy and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.
 
The 10,000 items located by the Task Force since October 29 ranged from 1000lb bombs down to individual hand and rifle grenades.
 
While the ordnance was predominantly US and Japanese, a range of other material was found including some French and British ordnance.
 
These items were “rendered safe”, usually by a controlled explosion, in location or at the Solomon Islands main EOD site near the nation’s capital Honiara.
 
Commander Griffiths said the results of the combined, Joint Task Force exceeded all expectations.
 
“I understand that the local Police deal with around 10,000 items per year, so for us to locate 10,000 in three weeks is a real credit not just to us but also the partnership we have had with the local Police and communities,” Commander Griffiths said.
 
“These extraordinary numbers are also a reflection of the high contamination of some parts of Solomons with unexploded ordnance – we are working here with global experts who estimate that some areas in Solomons have among the worst explosive ordnance contamination in the world - even more contaminated with unexploded ordnance than Laos or Cambodia.
 
“Given that these items have been here for around 70 years, the assistance we have had from local villages and communities in finding them has been critical.
 
“For instance, last week we had a Canadian team working in the mountains more than two kilometres away from the nearest logging track, while at the same time we had an Australian team working a few metres from the edge of Henderson Field airport in the capital of Honiara.
 
“In both cases it was information gained from the local community that led us to these sites.”
 
Commander Griffiths said ships and divers had also surveyed more than 25 square-kilometres of seabed, including 8km of beachfront near Honiara and numerous channels in the Russell Islands.
 
“Our Task Force members have no shortage of battlefield experience in Iraq, Afghanistan, East Timor, Bosnia, Burundi, Somalia, Sudan and a multitude of other conflict zones across most continents but the sheer volume of items in such a short period of time has certainly provided a challenge,” he said.
 
“Our teams were finding high explosive shells with pristine fuses still in their packaging so the threat of injury or death to the locals if they accidently set one of these off was, and still is, real.
 
“One of our clearance divers summed it up pretty well when he said that for us the war finished 70 years ago but Solomon Islanders have been living with it ever since.”
 
Commander Griffiths said Task Force members are now returning home to Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada knowing that they have freed up areas of land and seabed that are now safer for people to farm, build houses, fish and play.
 
“With the local population just passing 500,000 and growing rapidly these areas will be needed so that the Solomons can grow with confidence and safety,” he said.
 
“Along the way we have all had the opportunity to learn more about the Solomon Islands people and culture and I know all Task Force members have enjoyed that as much as they have enjoyed getting results on the job.”

Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Library at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20132376.