HMAS Huon explosive on operations

This article has photo gallery Published on CPL Mark Doran (author and photographer)

Location(s): Honiara

Topic(s): HMAS Diamantina (M86), HMAS Huon (M82), Operation RENDER SAFE

Royal Australian Navy sailor Able Seaman Clearance Diver Matthew Ryan, of HMAS Huon, prepares to dive with a batch of explosives for underwater explosive ordnance disposal in the Solomon Islands on 29 September, 2016, during Operation Render Safe.  (photo: Unknown)
Royal Australian Navy sailor Able Seaman Clearance Diver Matthew Ryan, of HMAS Huon, prepares to dive with a batch of explosives for underwater explosive ordnance disposal in the Solomon Islands on 29 September, 2016, during Operation Render Safe.

Australian minehunter HMAS Huon is one of a trio of vessels that have made a significant contribution to Operation RENDER SAFE 16 in the Solomon Islands.

Joining sister ship HMAS Diamantina and the New Zealand mine clearance tender HMNZS Manawanui, the ships revisited the sites of intense Second World War action, including Guadalcanal and Tulagi.

Commanding Officer HMAS Huon, Lieutenant Commander Jason Mullen, said the primary role of the Australian mine hunter during the operation was to conduct maritime reconnaissance and disposal of explosive remnants of war.

“Other tasks included locating two ammunition barges sunk near Tulagi during the war to ensure there were no explosives left on site,” he said.

“It was a successful operation beginning with us sending an underwater mine disposal vehicle to identify the barges before sending in the divers to have a closer look.

“The visibility was clear for up to 30 metres, so it was a fantastic opportunity to properly investigate the site.

“Another interesting task was to look for identification marks on a United States Navy F4 Wildcat aircraft, which was shot down in the same area, for the United States Missing in Action/Prisoner of War Commission.

“Unfortunately we didn’t find any identifying tallies or a tail number as the underwater growth was encrusted on the aircraft.”

HMAS Huon also provided support to the forward operating base at Yandina, in the Russell Islands, for explosive ordnance disposal land detachments from Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom which were operating on Mbanika Island.

Lieutenant Commander Mullen said the ship’s six divers found twenty 105mm artillery rounds which they cached on the sea bed for the divers from HMAS Diamantina for disposal.

“They also found another eight explosive projectiles of various calibres in the shallow waters of the Russell Islands they destroyed themselves,” he said.

“A lot of the divers’ success was a result of their engagement with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force and information they received from the villagers.

“There is still a lot of ordnance to be found, but the locals were incredibly pleased to see us getting rid of the stuff because of its unstable condition and the damage it can cause.

“Once we clear an area it means the Solomon Islanders can reclaim the land or water and safely cultivate it or fish in it and not have to worry about their children finding bombs.”

Able Seaman Clearance Diver Carl Keighran, of Huon, said he did nearly 20 dives in the Solomon Islands and a lot of snorkelling in the shallower water looking for explosive projectiles.

“In one location we were surprised to find forty 105mm and 155mm projectiles at a depth of 27m along with grenades and other ordnance,” he said.

“The highlight of what was a very busy operation was destroying the explosives we found and making the Solomon Islands a safer place.”

Able Seaman Combat Systems Operator Mine Warfare Corey Camm, said his role was to monitor and identify objects from the sonar of the underwater mine disposal vehicle onboard Huon.

“We are able to identify very small objects underwater and give the commander a clear idea of what we are dealing with,” he said.

“It has been great to be a part of the multinational task force and learn more about the people and their culture.”