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US Navy, Australian Defence Force Recover and Dispose of Jettisoned Ordnance
Posted: September 1, 2013

SOUTH PACIFIC OCEAN – Aug 29-31 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 US 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 US 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 Ordinance Disposal 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.

Photos of the recovery can be found at the following link:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/us7thfleet/sets/72157635316596009/
 

FAQ

 

Q. What ship was used for the search?
 

A. HMAS Gascoyne conducted the search and located the bombs:
http://www.navy.gov.au/hmas-gascoyne-ii

Q. How were the bombs retrieved?
 

A. US Navy divers from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit (EODMU) 5 conducted the recovery from USS Germantown (LSD 42). Divers used inflatable lift balloons to bring the ordnance to the surface where it was inspected for safety, and destroyed on the beach of the Triangular Island ordnance demolition area.

Q. What does “inert” ordnance mean?
 

A. Inert ordnance are cement filled training devices that resemble actual ordnance but have none of the explosives, electronics, propellant or fusing mechanisms and pose no explosive hazard to personnel or material.

Q. How many divers were used?
 

A. We used four US Navy divers and one liaison EOD expert from the RAN.

Q. Did the search and recovery go as planned? Was it on scheduled?
 

A. The search and recovery went as planned in a safe, timely and professional manner.

Q. Were there any Australian government officials or military aboard USS Germantown for the recovery and what were their roles in the recovery of the ordnance?
 

A. One RAN combat diver and one GBRMPA representative were onboard Germantown to provide expertise and insight into the recovery.

Q. The ordnance was lifted to the surface by balloons. Were the balloons attached to the ordnance by the divers or did they use a remote vehicle to attach the balloons?
 

A. The balloons were attached to the ordnance by the divers. Remote Operated Vehicles were used only to aid in the visual localization of ordnance before the dives.

Q. Did the divers require any specialized equipment to operate at that depth for this recovery?
 

A. The divers from EODMU 5 used MK-16 re-breather mixed gas Underwater Breathing Apparatus (UBA) and Remote Operated Vehicles to aid in the visual localization of ordnance before the dives. There is approximately a 90 meter limit for dives with multiple decompression stops.

Q. Was the ordnance damaged and did it make more difficult for the recovery?
 

A. The bombs landed in soft sand and silt away from reef and rocks, limiting the damage to them or the surrounding area.

Q. Where was the ordnance disposed? Was it dismantled, detonated?
 

A. It was destroyed in the Triangular Island explosives range by detonation. This is the safest area to dispose of damaged ordnance.

Q. Why was Triangular Island selected?
 

A. Triangular Island is a designated ordnance disposal site within the military’s Shoalwater Bay Training Area and is covered by an agreement between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Department of Defence as a mutually agreed ordnance disposal site.

Q. Was there a chance one of the two live bombs could have exploded during the retrieval?
 

A. The chance of explosion was highly unlikely since the bombs were jettisoned in an unarmed state.

Q. Was the recovery a dangerous operation?
 

A. The U.S. Navy has some of the best trained and most professional divers in the world. They all volunteer for diving duty and receive years of training before being fully qualified to make a dive of this nature. Any dive to 70 meters under heavy current is inherently dangerous, so rigorous safety precautions were taken at all times.

Q. Did the weather or sea conditions have any affect on the recovery operations?
 

A. Divers experienced strong tides and could only dive when ocean currents were within safe diving limits during slack tides since the bombs were located in a deep water channel.

Q. What type of ship is the USS Germantown?
 

A. USS Germantown (LSD 42) is a Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship that is permanently forward-deployed to Sasebo Japan. Germantown is part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and, along with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, recently participated in the U.S.-Australia biennial exercise Talisman Saber 2013.

Q. Was there any environmental impact?
 

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:

The incident was deemed by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority to be a low risk to the marine environment. The ordnance was dropped about 30 kilometers from the nearest coral reef and 50 kilometers from the coastline, well away from any sensitive habitat.
 

No immediate environmental damage was seen during either the search or recovery of the ordnance. GBRMPA officers will continue to monitor the area.
 

Two pieces of ordnance were inert, as they contained concrete, and the other two were unarmed, so the risk of detonation was 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. Was any coral reef damaged?
 

A. I refer you to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, which issued the following statement:
 

"The impacts on the environment were negligible. Of the four weapons dropped, two were filled with concrete and two with unarmed explosives, meaning they were essentially inert.


Q. Was the ordnance within a World Heritage Area?
 

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

Q. What was the location of the bombs?
 

A. 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 selected emergency jettison area was in a deep channel away from the reef to minimize the possibility of reef damage. The location was approximately 70 meters deep and did not pose a hazard to shipping or navigation.

Q. Can you describe the bombs?
 

A. The BDU 45 is an inert training device weighing 500lbs. It is about 5ft long and 10 inches wide, filled with cement and designed to resemble actual ordnance but has none of the explosives, electronics, propellant or fusing mechanisms. They pose no explosive hazard to personnel or material.
 

The GBU 12 is a 500 lb laser-guided bomb, about 11ft long and 11 inches wide. The GBU 12s were not armed and were jettisoned in their safe state.

Q. 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 minimize 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 minimization 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.
 

 

A thorough risk assessment was also jointly conducted by GBRMPA and the Defence Force before the Talisman Saber exercise to minimize potential environmental impacts from any training activities.


For further information please contact:

 

U.S. 7th Fleet Public Affairs Officer:

808-653-2152; E-mail: pao@c7f.navy.mil and William.marks@c7f.navy.mil.

 

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

ADF Contact:
Media Operations, Department of Defence, Phone: +61 2 6127 1999 email: mediaops@defence.gov.au

Ms Fiona Russell, OPS, StratCom Branch, Ph: +61 2 626 56525, Mob: +61 467 804 432, email: fiona.russell@defence.gov.au

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

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