World War II bombs a daily threat in Solomon Islands | Pacific Beat

World War II bombs a daily threat in Solomon Islands

World War II bombs a daily threat in Solomon Islands

Updated 28 October 2013, 18:23 AEDT

The Australian Defence Force says the amount of unexploded bombs in Solomon Islands - left-over from World War Two - is a "scourge" that is stunting the nation's development.

This week, the Australian Defence Force begins a month-long operation to remove bombs from the Islands.

Operation "Render Safe" involves more than 200-military personnel from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada.

Commander Doug Griffiths says its the biggest operation of its type for the Solomon Islands.

Commander Griffiths told Iskhandar Razak World War two bombs are found on a daily-basis near populated areas, and prime development land.

Presenter: Iskhandar Razak

Speaker: Commander Doug Griffiths, Royal Australian Navy

GRIFFITHS: Throughout the Solomon Islands, there's an unknown quantity of unexploded ordinance, which has been left over from World War Two.

You have to remember that Solomon Islands was at the forefront of some of the bloodiest fighting 60 years ago, with allied forces, so, of course, that's the Japanese, who had quite a significant stronghold in the islands. So with the fighting that went on there over 60 years ago, there's been quite a lot of unexploded ordinance that remains to this day.

RAZAK: Where do we think that they are in Solomon Islands, is it well populated areas or densely populated areas?

GRIFFITHS: It constantly turns up when they're clearing land, when they're building. This is a hazard which has been pretty much a scourge for the local population for sometime and a lot of the time they haven't had the capability or the capacity to actually deal with it on the volume that's required to be addressed. It does get reported through to the Solomon Islands Police force on a daily basis.

RAZAK: Is this legacy from World War Two stopping Solomon Islands from developing, from using land to develop into buildings, or pastoral or agricultural areas?

GRIFFITHS: Well, there's certainly land in the vicinity of Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal, that we're going to be focusing a lot of time and effort into and this is an area called Hells Point. It's just adjacent to the Henderson Airfield which is Solomon Islands International Airport and that's an area has been unable to be developed, because just the sheer volume of ordinance which was left over from World War Two.

RAZAK: What nations are involved in this operation? It's an Australian-led operation, but are there other nations involved as well?

GRIFFITHS: Oh, absolutely. This is the first time we've actually executed render safe on this scale. As you've said, it's Australian-led and we're represented by all three services, but this time, we're joined by the New Zealand Defence Force, members of the United States Navy and the Canadian Defence Force.

RAZAK: What role will local authorities take in Operation Render Safe?

GRIFFITHS: Well, we plan on working alongside the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force very, very closely. They have the connections within the community, so they're able to identify where the hazards are. So we'll be working very close with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, as well as their Maritime Wing for some of the transport arrangements that we around the area.

RAZAK: This isn't the first time that the Australian Defence Force has been involved getting rid of unexploded bombs from World War Two in the Pacific, but how does this operation this time around, this month-long operation compare to previous operations in Solomon Islands or Papua New Guinea?

GRIFFITHS: Well, previously in 2011, this was the last time we conducted an operation Render Safe. We did that in the Rabaul and Kokoda area of Papua New Guinea.

That was highly successful, and that involved New Zealand Navy as well as the Papua New Guinea Defence Force.

This time the scale of the operation has increased obviously with the involvement of the US and Canada and we're actually focusing on a couple of different areas. So not only are we looking at the areas around Honiara, but we're also looking at the areas around the Russell Island Group, and this is an area which was specifically identified by the Solomon Islands government as an area which they had concerns of the volume of explosive remnants of war.

RAZAK: This is a month-long operation and you've already said, we don't really know how many bombs are left over in the region from World War Two. Is one month long enough?

GRIFFITHS: Oh, I don't think so, I don't think so. I think that if the work that we can do there in the period that we've got available. If we can focus that on removing some of the immediate threats in the areas that we're working on, to make the area safer for the local population, I think we'll have achieved our aim.

I think that we'll make a dent, but I think it's only going to be a small one, noting the sheer volume of ordinance which continues to turn up on a daily basis.

RAZAK: So this isn't going to be the last of the operations, I guess. We'll be back there, won't we?

GRIFFITHS: Well, Operation Render Safe is an enduring ADF commitment to the South West Pacific, so I have no doubt that we will be back again in the Solomon Islands

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