Photo: Australian divers help Solomon Islands handle ordnance
A team of Royal Australian Navy clearance divers have been part of the team that cleared over 10 tonnes of World War II munitions in the Solomon Islands.
They worked with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force on Guadalcanal during operation Render Safe 16 to enhance the underwater clearance capability of the Solomon team.
Mine warfare and clearance diving officer Lieutenant Robert Kelly, of Australian Clearance Diving Team One, based in Sydney, said the Australians were mentoring in a variety of techniques and technology in underwater explosive ordnance disposal.
“The team has worked using their side scan sonar array to find explosive ordnance off the coast of Guadalcanal near Hells Point,” he said. “There were a significant amount of sonar contacts to dive on.”
The Solomon Islands was the scene of heavy fighting during the Second World War at sea, on land, and in the air.
The Islands were also used as a support and ammunition base; as a result, explosives remain a significant danger to this day.
While using the sonar array the team scanned the position of the USS John Penn, which was sunk by enemy action on 13 August 1943 off Lunga Point in an area littered with possible explosive ordnance.
Lieutenant Kelly said there were thousands of explosive projectiles scattered in the areas of Hells Point and Alligator Creek.
“There is everything from 75mm mortars through to eight-inch artillery rounds, some of which are white phosphorus, which is very difficult to dispose of,” he said.
“There have been 12 islanders killed by explosive remnants of war in the past decade either by finding it accidently or by trying to make fish bombs.”
In Guadalcanal explosives were either detonated on site or taken to the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force Hells Point facility to be destroyed or neutralised under supervision.
The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force deals with around 10,000 explosive remnants of war every year.