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FAQ For Harrier Emergency Jettison
Posted: July 23, 2013

Thank you for your patience as we compiled the most accurate and timely information for this incident.  This information was updated July 23.

 

INITIAL STATEMENT FROM 7TH FLEET

 

SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN (July 20, 2013) -  Two AV-8B Harrier aircraft launched from USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) that were conducting precursor activity associated with Exercise Talisman Saber conducted an emergency jettison of four pieces of ordnance off the coast of Queensland, Australia. After being unable to expend their ordnance during a planned training mission, and having insufficient fuel to reach their pre-designated jettison area, the pilots jettisoned the ordnance in an unarmed condition on 16 July.

The location of the emergency jettison area was approximately 16 nautical miles south of Bell Cay in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park of Capricorn channel.

The Harriers had intended to drop the ordnance in Townshend Island Range but controllers reported the area was not clear of hazards. Due to low fuel and inability to land with the amount of ordnance they were carrying, the on scene commander determined it was necessary to designate an emergency jettison area for the ordnance. Each Harrier jettisoned one BDU 45 and one GBU 12, for a total of four bombs, of which none exploded. BDU 45s are inert ordnance, and the GBU 12s were jettisoned in a safe, unarmed state and did not explode.

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps are working closely with Australian authorities to investigate the incident. The selected emergency jettison area was in a deep channel away from the reef to minimize the possibility of reef damage. It is approximately 50 to 60 meters deep and does 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 Harriers are part of 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, under the operational and tactical control of Commander, Task Force 76.

Queries on this matter should be directed to U.S. Seventh Fleet Public Affairs: 808-653-2152, email pao@c7f.navy.mil .


FAQ

Q. Is there a hazard to Navigation?


A. The ordnance is 50-60 meters deep and at that depth there is no hazard to navigation or shipping. I strongly encourage you to contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or read their statement below:

"The impacts on the environment are negligible and since there was four weapons dropped, two were filled with concrete and two with explosives, they weren't armed and they were essentially inert so the environment affects where they land on the flat sea bottom,'' he said. "It was well away from any sensitive habitat. "It wasn't an area in the marine national park zone and it wasn't a trawling zone.''

Q. How will this event impact the environment?


A. I defer to the experts in this area. I strongly encourage you to contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or read their statement below:

On Wednesday, 17 July the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority was notified of an incident involving four unarmed pieces of ordnance jettisoned by U.S. military aircraft in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park on Tuesday, July 16.
 

The incident was deemed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to be low risk to the marine environment and has been addressed as an operational matter since it occurred.
 

A high priority for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is to continue to work with the Department of Defence to identify options for rapid recovery of the ordnances so they pose no risk to the Marine Park and stakeholders.
 

The incident occurred as part of a training activity prior to Exercise Talisman Saber — a combined U.S. and Australian defence training exercise.
 

As the aircraft were running low on fuel, for safety reasons the aircraft were forced to jettison their four unarmed pieces of ordnance in an area where least impact would occur to the marine environment — a channel more than 50 metres deep and away from the Reef itself.
 

Based on where the ordnance have been dropped in a location that is in water around 50 metres deep, about 30 kilometres from the nearest reef and 50 kilometres from the coastline, the immediate impact on the marine environment is thought to be negligible.
 

Two pieces of ordnance were inert, containing concrete, and the other two were not armed, so the risk of detonation is deemed extremely low.
The incident occurred north-east of Townshend Island, off the Queensland coast north-east of Rockhampton.
 

The notification followed protocols established before the exercise.
 

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a multiple-use marine protected area, and Defence training is one of the legitimate uses of the park.
 

Activities undertaken by the Department of Defence within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are conducted in line with Part 5.2(d) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003.
 

The Talisman Saber exercise in the Great Barrier Reef is also conducted under guidelines established in the Strategic Environmental Assessment of Defence Activities within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area 2006.
 

Contact:

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media team | (07) 4750 0846|media@gbrmpa.gov.au

Q. Is the Navy planning to recover the bombs?


A. In coordination with the Australian Defence Force, U.S. Seventh Fleet will take the lead in the safe retrieval and disposal of four bombs which were jettisoned off the coast of Queensland, Australia by two AV-8B Harrier aircraft in an emergency situation 16 July.
 

The U.S. military is aware of its professional responsibility to mitigate the environmental impact of its exercises/operations. As partners with our Australian counterparts, and particularly in the context of Exercise Talisman Saber, the U.S. military conscientiously conforms to the proper rules and protocols set forth by Australian military and civilian authorities.
 

In conducting the retrieval Seventh Fleet will coordinate closely with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and ADF to ensure the environment is protected with the greatest care. The U.S. military has been in close contact with ADF and GBRMPA to determine the appropriate course of action. We are fully committed to redressing any potential adverse environmental impact in a timely manner. We will announce more detailed plans for recovery operations as they are finalized.


Q. Was the ordnance dropped in an area with live coral reef?
 

A. I strongly encourage you to contact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority or read their statement below:

"The impacts on the environment are negligible and since there was four weapons dropped, two were filled with concrete and two with explosives, they weren't armed and they were essentially inert so the environment affects where they land on the flat sea bottom,'' he said. "It was well away from any sensitive habitat. "It wasn't an area in the marine national park zone and it wasn't a trawling zone.''

Q. Is the ordnance within a World Heritage Area?
 

A. The inert and unexploded ordnance is inside the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Q. Can you describe the bombs?
 

A. The BDU 45 is an inert training bomb weighing 500lbs. It is about 5ft long and 10 inches wide. The GBU 12 is a 500 lb laser-guided bomb, about 11ft long and 11 inches wide. The GBU 12s were not fused and jettisoned in their safe state.

Q. Could one of the two live bombs eventually explode?
 

A. The chance of explosion is highly unlikely since the fusing mechanism is not in place.
Talking with explosive ordnance experts, it is virtually impossible for it to explode. The bombs were jettisoned in an unarmed state.

Q. Why were the aircraft low on fuel?
 

A. Our initial review indicated there was no single factor or error on the pilots’ part that led to a low fuel state. The amount of fuel use was standard for this type of training and in-flight refueling assets are not always available. We are conducting an investigation to determine more specific details.

Q. Was there negligence involved?
 

A. Safety of personnel and the environment are our top priorities. We are reviewing the situation in consultation with Australian authorities.

Q. Is there an investigation underway?
 

A. Yes.

Q. Did the AUS range officials not know about the live ordnance event?
 

A. We have not yet determined the causal factors for the emergency jettison. We are reviewing the situation in consultation with Australian authorities.

Q. What is the Townshend Island Range, and who owns and operates it?
 

A. The Townshend Island Range is part of Australia’s Shoalwater Bay Training Area in Queensland. The range is owned and operated by the Australian Defence Force.
http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/4319/defence-opreations.pdf

Q. Have you issued any navigation notice now?
 

A. We are coordinating with Australian officials to ensure an appropriate navigation notice is issued.

Q. Was this part of Exercise Talisman Saber 2013?
 

A. No. The training event occurred prior to the start of TS-13 and was a unit level event under cognizance of C7F in coordination with the ADF.

Q. How will the event affect TS-13?
 

A. The event was unit level training and not part of the exercise. Talisman Saber 13 is continuing as planned.

Q. Why were civilian boats in bomb dropping area?
 

A. We are unsure why boats were in the area, however safety to life is our most important priority therefore range authorities decided not to drop the bombs.

Q. Was the warning sent out to boat operators etc excluding them from the area?
 

A. That is the standard procedure. Please contact the Reef Park Authority for details
http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/4319/defence-opreations.pdf

Q. If this is the case, whose responsibility is it to ensure there are no civilians or civilian vessels in the drop zone?
 

A. Please refer your question to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Q. Was an approved Environmental Clearance Certificate issued to cover the dropping of inert bombs in the GBRMP area? If not why not?
 

A. Please refer your question to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Q. Generally speaking, how does the Navy ensure that its training activities do not damage coral reefs, dugongs, turtles and whales?
 

A. Caring for the environment is one of our highest priorities and is always considered in mission planning. From the Townshend Island Range website:
Defence requires that all training activities within the training area conform to an Environmental Certificate of Compliance (ECC) which specifies procedures to minimise environmental damage. In addition, Defence personnel must conform with Standing Orders. Standing Orders and the ECC specify the manner in which operations are conducted in marine areas within Port Clinton or Freshwater Bay and they also specify risk minimisation strategies.
 

A Land Management Plan has been in place for a number of years and has recently been revised. The plan provides guidelines and performance indicators for land management practices within the training area. This includes the maintenance of water quality which is of particular relevance to the adjacent marine environment.
Activities undertaken by the Department of Defence within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park are conducted in line with Part 5.2(d) of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003.
 

The Talisman Saber exercise in the Great Barrier Reef is also conducted under guidelines established in the Strategic Environmental Assessment of Defence Activities within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area 2006.

PA Points of Contact.

U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs Office: Office 808-653-2152; E-mail pao@c7f.navy.mil

• CDR William Marks, PAO: Office 808-653-2152; E-mail william.marks@c7f.navy.mil

• LT David Levy, Deputy PAO: Office 808-653-2152; E-mail david.levy@c7f.navy.mil

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority
Media team: (07) 4750 0846, media@gbrmpa.gov.au
http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/

ADF Contact: LCDR Todd Austin RAN/NAVY CJIB Deputy Director +61 0417 319 939 Todd.austin@defence.gov.au

U.S. Embassy: Alicia Edwards, Information Officer, email: EdwardsAK@state.gov Tel. (02) 6214-5760 Mob. 0409-124-995

Exercise Talisman Saber 13 Combined Joint Information Bureau +61 7 4936 6266; email ts13.cjib@gmail.com

CDR Paula Dunn US/NAVY CJIB Director 0459 625 236 TS13.dunn@gmail.com

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