Bombs dropped on Great Barrier Reef marine park
Associated Press in Canberra guardian.co.uk, Saturday 20 July 2013
Senator asks ‘have we gone mad?’ after US planes jettison four unarmed bombs in training exercise gone wrong
The two AV-8B Harrier jets, launched from the aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard, each jettisoned an inert practice bomb and an unarmed laser-guided explosive bomb into the World Heritage-listed marine park off the coast of Queensland on Tuesday, the US 7th Fleet said in a statement on Saturday.
The four bombs, weighing a total 1.8 metric tons (4,000 pounds), were dropped into more than 50 metres (164ft) of water, away from coral, to minimise possible damage to the reef, the statement said. None exploded.
The Great Barrier Reef marine park authority said in a statement that identifying options for the “rapid recovery” of the bombs so that they could pose no risk to the marine park was “a high priority”. But the authority also said the ordnances posed a “low risk to the marine environment”.
US 7th Fleet spokesman Lieutenant David Levy said on Monday the Navy was reviewing the possibility of retrieving the ordnances in consultation with Australian authorities.
“If the park service and the government agencies of Australia determine that they want those recovered, then we will co-ordinate with them on that recovery process,” Levy said in an email.
The jets, from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, had intended to drop the ordnances on the Townshend Island bombing range, but aborted the mission when controllers reported the area was not clear of hazards.
“It was not safe to drop the bombs. There were civilian boats right below them,” fleet commander William Marks told Australian ABC radio on Monday.
The pilots conducted the emergency jettison because they were low on fuel and could not land with their bomb load, the Navy said.
“The Harriers … needed to get back to the ship, and so they conducted an emergency jettison,” Marks said.
The emergency happened on the second day of the biennial joint training exercise Talisman Saber, which brings together 28,000 US and Australian military personnel over three weeks. The US Navy and Marine Corps were working with Australian authorities to investigate the incident, the Navy said.
A 7th Fleet spokesman did not immediately respond on Sunday, when asked by email whether the dumping posed any environmental risk.
Australian Senator Larissa Waters, the Greens spokeswoman on the Great Barrier Reef, described the dumping of bombs in such an environmentally sensitive area as “outrageous” and said it should not be allowed.
“Have we gone completely mad?” she told the ABC. “Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?”
Graeme Dunstan, who is among environmentalists and anti-war activists demonstrating against the joint exercises, said the mishap proved that the US military could not be trusted to protect the environment.
“How can they protect the environment and bomb the reef at the same time? Get real,” Dunstan said from the Queensland coastal town of Yeppoon, near where the war games are taking place.
The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest network of coral structures, is rich in marine life and stretches more than 3,000km (1,800 miles) along Australia’s north-east coast.