US, Aussie sailors recover bombs dropped within Great Barrier Reef park boundary
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 1, 2013
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan – U.S. and Australian sailors have recovered two unarmed bombs dropped in July in deep water within Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, U.S. 7th Fleet officials announced Sunday.
Divers from Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit Five recovered the 500-pound bombs on Aug. 29 and Aug. 30, using lift balloons to bring them to the surface, according to a 7th Fleet statement.
The Navy left behind two cement-filled, inert training bombs with an agreement from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, according to the statement. The inert bombs contain no explosives, electronics, propellant or fusing mechanisms.
“We supported the U.S. Navy's decision to leave the inert rounds on the seafloor due to the challenging and potentially unsafe diving condition,” park authority chairman Russell Reichelt said in a statement.
The bombs, which were dropped in roughly 180 feet of water about 18 miles south of Bell Cay, caused no observable environmental damage, Navy officials said. Park officials will continue to monitor the site, according to a statement.
Following recovery, the two unarmed bombs were destroyed at the Triangular Island demolition area in Queensland, Australia.
The bombs were initially located by Royal Australian Navy minehunter HMAS Gascoyne on August 16.
They were jettisoned by two Marine AV-8B Harrier jets on July 16 after a civilian vessel was spotted in the off-limits Townshend Island range area, which was the planned target.
The jets took off from the Sasebo-based USS Bonhomme Richard as part of Talisman Saber 2013, a biannual exercise including 21,000 U.S. servicemembers and about 7,000 Australian servicemembers.
The jets would have had difficulty landing back on the ship with the bombs attached, Navy officials said in July.
From right, Capt. Heidi Agle, deputy commodore, Amphibious Squadron 11, Michael Phelan, operation coordinator with Great Barier Reef Marine Park Authority, discuss methods of bomb recovery in the wardroom aboard dock landing ship USS Germantown, which is part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group. With the embarked 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, it is currently conducting routine joint-force operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet Area of Responsibility.
ANDREW B. CHURCH/COURTESY U.S. NAVY