Australia: outrage over US bomb drop on Barrier Reef
The US navy has confirmed that two fighter jets dropped four unarmed bombs into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef marine park when a training exercise went wrong.
Environmentalists are outraged by the incident, which took place last week.
Larissa Waters, an Australian senator and the Green Party’s spokeswoman on the Great Barrier Reef, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation: “Have we gone completely mad?Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?”
It happened during a joint exercise with the Australian Defence force.
The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the world’s largest coral reef system.
The pilots of the jets had intended to drop the four bombs on the Townshend Island bomb range, but could not do so after being were told there were hazards in the area, Commander William Marks of the US Seventh Fleet told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“It was not safe to drop the bombs. There were civilian boats right below them,” said Marks. The US Navy has also said in a statement the jets were low on fuel.
“The Harriers … needed to get back to the ship, and so they conducted an emergency jettison,” Marks said.
The bombs are lying in a deep channel away from the reef to “minimise the possibility of reef damage”, the US navy said.
The site was approximately 50 to 60 metres (165-200 feet) deep and did not pose a hazard to shipping or navigation.
“We are coordinating with Australian officials to ensure an appropriate navigation notice is issued until charts can be updated showing the location of the unexploded ordnance,” the US Navy statement said.
Australian media reported the US Navy was planning to recover the four bombs, although the Navy was not immediately available to comment on the reports.
An undated photo shows a colorful scene at the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s northeastern coast
Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images
It was a “training exercise that went wrong,” as the BBC describes it. Two U.S. fighter jets got into a bit of trouble during a training mission on Tuesday and were forced to drop four inert bombs on the Great Barrier Reef off Australia’s coast. The two AV-8B Harrier jets each dropped “an inert practice bomb and an unarmed laser-guided explosive bomb” into the marine park, reports the Associated Press. The Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, is the world’s largest coral reef, stretching more than 1,200 miles. But the bombs were reportedly dropped away from coral.
NBC was first to get word of the news, reporting that two AV-8B Harriers were conducting the missions that would have them drop the bombs on Townshend Island but “the range was not clear.” When they began running out of fuel they had to land but couldn’t do that with the bombs. “They chose to save the aircraft,” one official said.
The U.S. Navy assured Australians that it will be recovering the bombs that were dropped in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, reports the Brisbane Times. The bombs are around 200 feet underwater, some 60 miles offshore and are in a “safe, unarmed state and did not explode,” according to a Navy spokesman. Still, environmentalists expressed shock that bombs would be dropped on such a sensitive site. “Have we gone completely mad?” Australian Sen. Larissa Waters told Australian Broadcasting Corp. “Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?”
U.S. Navy offers to help recover bombs from Great Barrier Reef
ABOARD THE USS GEORGE WASHINGTON | Tue Jul 23, 2013 6:13am EDT
(Reuters) – The U.S. Navy on Tuesday offeredAustralia any help it wanted to retrieve four bombs mistakenly dropped inside the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef marine park last week.
U.S. Navy Harrier fighter jets were forced to drop the bombs, two inert and two carrying explosives but not armed, after civilian boats were spotted near their original target.
The aircraft, which were not able to land safely carrying the bombs, were participating in Operation Talisman Saber, a joint U.S.-Australian military exercise involving nearly 30,000 personnel, mostly around northern Australia.
Vice Admiral Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet, said a decision on whether to leave the bombs or retrieve them was up to the Australian government.
“Once that determination has been made, we’ll work closely with whoever is designated to remediate the problem. If that means removal of the weapons, I’d be happy to participate,” Swift told media aboard an aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. George Washington, 200 km (125 miles) off the Australian coast.
The bombs were lying in 50 to 60 meters (160 ft to 200 ft) of water, posed little risk to the reef or shipping and could easily be picked up by Navy divers, a spokesman added.
Environmentalists have criticized holding such large-scale military exercises in sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef, which is under threat from increased commercial shipping, climate change and an invasive starfish infestation, the United Nations says.
Swift and Australian Brigadier General David Coghlan said the site had been used for decades and the risks were manageable.
“We have a long history of good stewardship in that area and we have a solid environmental program,” Coghlan said. “We look at the risk every year, every day.”
Editorial: SELVA-Vida Sin Fronteras
Gustavo López Ospina
Pieter Jan Brouwer
Assistant: Emilia Romero
The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice is associated with the International Environmental Mission, a grass roots citizens movement created by Chilean Senator Juan Pablo Letelier.
SELVA Vida Sin Fronteras acknowledges Kevin Schafer’s important contribution towards protecting the highly endangered Amazon pink fresh water dolphin. Title photographs of our “The Amazon Pink Dolphin’s Voice” were taken by Mr. Schafer.