The Australian navy has tracked down four unexploded bombs that were dumped onto the country’s World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef by two US fighter jets during a botched military exercise last month.
According to the Australian Department of Defense, its mine-hunting vessel HMAS Gascoyne has discovered the bombs and is currently working to retrieve the ordnance in a joint recovery operation with the US Navy.
The ordnance were dropped during a training activity on the second day of the biennial joint training exercise Talisman Saber that brings together 28,000 US and Australian military personnel over three weeks.
Two of the bombs did not contain explosives, while the other two were without their fusing mechanisms, The Australian reported.
The bombs were detected at a depth of 60 to 70 meters, using sonar equipment in a remote-control submersible. Officials say the timing of the recovery operation depends on the weather.
“At no stage did the jettisoned ordnance pose a threat to the safety of people or the Great Barrier Reef,” Joint Operations Chief Lieutenant General Ash Power said in a statement.
US warplanes were forced to drop the bombs weighing a total 1.8 metric tons (4,000 pounds) into the sea after they ran dangerously low on fuel. The training mission went wrong as the jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were originally told to drop the bombs at the Townshend Island bombing range.
That plan was aborted after the controllers said the area was not clear of hazards. The pilots then went ahead with an emergency jettison as they were not allowed to land with bombs on board, low on fuel, the Navy said.
The Great Barrier Reef is made up of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, stretching for more than 2,600 kilometers (1,600 miles) along Australia’s northeast coast.
Many called the dumping of bombs on the World’s Heritage-listed site “outrageous,” saying the incident proved the US cannot be trusted to protect the environment.
“How can they protect the environment and bomb the reef at the same time? Get real,” said environmentalist and anti-war activist Graeme Dunstan.
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