SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) — The U.S. Navy and Australian Defense Force (ADF) successfully recovered and disposed of the live ordnance emergency-jettisoned by two AV-8B Harrier aircraft on July 16 off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
The two inert and two unarmed live rounds were located by Royal Australian Navy minehunter HMAS Gascoyne on August 16. The two unarmed live rounds were retrieved by divers from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) Five Aug 29 and 30, using lift balloons to bring the ordnance safely to the water surface, after which they were transported to the approved Triangular Island ordnance demolition area and destroyed.
In conducting the retrieval Seventh Fleet coordinated closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and ADF to ensure the environment was protected with the greatest care. No immediate environmental damage was seen during either the search or recovery of the ordnance and GBRMPA officers will continue to monitor the area.
With agreement from the GBRMPA, the two inert rounds, which are cement-filled training facsimiles of the real ordnance, were left on the sandy bottom floor due to difficult diving conditions. They pose no danger to the environment. Inert ordnance is a cement filled training device that resembles actual ordnance but does not have explosives, electronics, propellant or fusing mechanisms.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chairman Russell Reichelt said he was pleased at the successful outcome of the operation and the strong and rapid response by both the Australian and US defence teams.
“I am very grateful for the extensive effort that the Australian and U.S. defence personnel have put into finding and retrieving the ordnance so quickly and for the cautious approach they’ve taken,” he said.
“There’s been a high level of cooperation between our agency, the ADF and the US Navy throughout this operation. Survey images confirm the ordnance landed on a sandy bottom, well away from coral and any sensitive habitat.
“Our personnel will continue to monitor the area in the coming days for any potential impacts following the recovery and disposal part of the operation. Two unarmed pieces of ordnance were disposed of safely at an existing defence training beach using well-established procedures approved by GBRMPA for detonations. We supported the U.S. Navy’s decision to leave the inert rounds on the seafloor due to the challenging and potentially unsafe diving conditions – these devices are not actual ordnance and pose no risk to people or the environment, as they are simply made of steel filled with concrete,” said Reichelt.
U.S. Ambassador to Australia Jeff Bleich congratulated the joint U.S. Navy and Australian Defence Force teams on this effort.
“Americans join Australians in commending our joint forces in successfully removing and disposing of this training ordnance. One of the reasons we train is to ensure that — even in an emergency situation — we take care to protect sensitive environments. Our forces demonstrated precisely that approach first by jettisoning the ordnance away from sensitive locations, and then by safely retrieving the live ordnance so quickly and responsibly,” said Bleich.
ADF Chief of Joint Operations, Lieutenant General Ash Power also said he was pleased with the success of the operation.
“Each step of this operation has demonstrated the successful working relationship between the USN, ADF and GBRMPA. The United States and Royal Australian Navy’s should be congratulated on the successful recovery and disposal of the ordnance, while ensuring that all environmental and safety requirements were met,” said LTGEN Power.
The recovery and disposal was a joint effort that included assets from the US Navy Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Five, airlift provided by the US Air Force, search assets from the RAN, and observers from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.
“This successful joint operation demonstrates our commitment to the environment, close working relationship with our Australian allies, and full cooperation with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority,” said Vice Admiral Robert Thomas, Commander, U.S. Seventh Fleet.