Picton sailor helps blast from the past

This article has photo gallery Published on MAJ Cameron Jamieson (author), CPL Mark Doran (photographer)

Location(s): Honiara, Solomon Islands

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

Able Seaman Marine Technician Geoffrey Powell, of HMAS Diamantina,stands on deck on 3 October, 2016, while part of the multinational task force of Operation Render Safe in the Solomon Islands. (photo: Corporal Mark Doran)
Able Seaman Marine Technician Geoffrey Powell, of HMAS Diamantina,stands on deck on 3 October, 2016, while part of the multinational task force of Operation Render Safe in the Solomon Islands.

A Navy marine technician has been helping bring safety to a historic war zone as part of a multi-national task force undertaking Operation RENDER SAFE in the Solomon Islands.
 
Able Seaman Marine Technician Geoffrey Powell a 'stoker', on HMAS Diamantina, maintains the machinery on the Australian warship which is classified as a Minehunter Coastal.
 
RENDER SAFE missions are enduring annual Australian-led mission to help rid the South West Pacific from the dangers of explosive remnants of war.
 
In the first two weeks of the operation more than 2,500 pieces of unexploded ordnance – more than 10 tonnes - were recovered for disposal by the multinational teams. 
 
Although born in Australia, Able Seaman Powell said his Fijian heritage was definitely an advantage when talking to the Solomon Islanders during the operation.
 
“My mother was born in Fiji and many of my relations still live in Suva,” he said.
 
“I found a lot of the locals were more comfortable approaching me, especially in Russel Islands, where they don’t see many white people.
 
“It was easy to talk to the islanders and very important to us because we rely on them and the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force to help us locate explosive ordnance.
 
“The ship’s crew also took time to engage with the villagers and we gave the children some stationary for their school work.
 
“It was a great opportunity for us to learn more about the people and their culture.”
 
The Solomon Islands was the scene heavy fighting during the Second World War at sea, on land, and from the air. The islands were also used as a support and ammunition base. As a result, explosive remnants of war still remain a danger for the locals to this day.
 
The local police force deal with around 10,000 explosive remnants of war every year across the Solomon Islands.
 
There have been 12 islanders killed by explosive remnants of war in the past decade either by finding ordnance accidently or by trying to make fish bombs.
 
The primary mission of Diamantina, who joined sister ship, HMAS Huon, during the operation was to conduct maritime reconnaissance and disposal of explosive remnants of war.
 
The Sydney-based minehunters found more than eight tonnes of projectiles and bombs during their search around the Russell Islands, Florida Group and Honiara.
 
Able Seaman Powell said RENDER SAFE was important for the Solomon Islands because it saved people from being injured or killed. 
 
“It was a highlight when the explosive ordnance specialists on Diamantina detonated projectiles and bombs near Mbanika Island, which is part of the Russell Islands,” he said.
 
“It was a massive underwater explosion, but it also demonstrated how dangerous and how much damage the explosive ordnance can do.”
 
Able Seaman Powell said his father served in the Royal Navy on HMS Hermes during the Falklands War during his postings before he moved to Australia and joined the Royal Australian Navy.
 
“I joined the Navy to travel the world and serve my country,” he said.
 
“This is my first operation and so far it’s been fantastic. I’ve made a great group of friends aboard Diamantina."
  
Diamantina 
will visit Fiji on completion of her duties for RENDER SAFE, which will give Able Seaman Powell the opportunity to visit his grandmother and the rest of his family who he has not seen for nine years.
 
When he returns to Sydney he is looking forward to being with his wife Jemma and his son Mason.
 
This year the operation took place on Guadalcanal and around the Russell Islands and Florida Group from September 12 to October 7 with military personnel from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.