UK & World News
Barrier Reef: US Navy May Retrieve Bombs
The US Navy is considering salvaging four unarmed bombs dropped on Australia's Great Barrier Reef after a training exercise went wrong.
The two AV-8B Harrier jets launched from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard each jettisoned an inert bomb and an unarmed explosive bomb on the World Heritage site on Tuesday, the US 7th Fleet said.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the government manager of the 133,360 square mile (345,400 square km) protected zone, 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".
"Based on where the ordnance have been dropped in a location that is in water around 164ft (50m) deep, about 19 miles (30km) from the nearest reef and 31 miles (50km) from the shoreline, the immediate impact on the marine environment is thought to be negligible," the statement said.
US 7th Fleet spokesman Lt David Levy said on Monday that the Navy was currently 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 coordinate with them on that recovery process," he said.
The four bombs, weighing a total of 1.8 tons (4,000lb), were dropped into more than 164ft of water away from coral to minimise damage to the reef, the US 7th Fleet said.
The jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit had intended to drop them on the Townshend Island bombing range, but aborted the mission when controllers reported the area was not clear of hazards.
Both aircraft were running low on fuel and could not land with the bombs on board.
US Navy Commander William Marks told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Monday that the crews detected civilian vessels inside the drop zone.
"The approved area where they could do some of this live training with these 500lb bombs, it was not safe to drop the bombs," he said. "There were civilian boats right below them."
The joint Australia-US training, which began on July 15, involves 28,000 troops and Commander Marks was unable to say how civilian vessels had strayed into the Shoalwater Bay military training area.
"I don't have any more information about what they were doing and why they were there," he said.
Australian senator Larissa Waters, Greens party spokeswoman on the Great Barrier Reef, described the dumping of bombs as outrageous and said it should not be allowed.
She said: "Have we gone completely mad? Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?"
Graeme Dunstan, who is among the environmentalists and anti-war activists protesting against the joint exercise, claimed the US military could no longer be trusted to protect the environment.
"How can they protect the environment and bomb the reef at the same time? Get real," Mr Dunstan said from the Queensland coastal town of Yepoon near where the military exercise is taking place.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest network of coral structures rich in marine life that stretches more than 1,800 miles along the Australian northeast coast.