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Operation Render Safe: dealing with the explosive remnants of war

Royal Australian Navy clearance divers prepare to destroy explosive remnants of war during Operation Render Safe 2016 in the Solomon Islands.
Royal Australian Navy clearance divers prepare to destroy explosive remnants of war during Operation Render Safe 2016 in the Solomon Islands.

Every country ravaged by war knows that the impacts of conflict last long after the final shot is fired. Despite the Second World War ending more than seven decades ago, the South Pacific region is still littered with explosives that pose a threat to the life of local communities and anyone unlucky enough to stumble upon the abandoned or unexploded wartime munitions.

Commonly referred to as explosive remnants of war, the munitions have denied local communities a sense of using and enjoying their land and waters safely.

Australia’s enduring commitment to the region and its wartime allies has led to the establishment of Operation Render Safe. This year’s activities saw around 120 ADF personnel joined by 40 specialists from New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom in the Solomon Islands to remove the unexploded and abandoned World War II munitions.

Operation Render Safe was primarily conducted in areas around Honiara (Guadalcanal Island), Tulagi (Nggela Islands) and Yandina (Russell Islands) in September and October 2016.

The ADF contributed the mine-hunting vessels HMAS Huon and HMAS Diamantina. Explosive ordnance disposal specialists from the Navy, Army and Air Force were supported by health personnel and logistics troops. The Royal Australian Air Force also provided strategic airlift with a C-130J Hercules transport aircraft.

The Australian-led operation had the full cooperation of the Solomon Islands Government and enjoyed a close partnership with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

The Australian contingent commander for Operation Render Safe, Commander Etienne Mulder, said the removal of wartime explosives is a challenging task, but made far more manageable by the assistance and cooperation of local people who have lived in the shadows of the explosive remnants of war for decades.

‘We worked closely with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force in this year’s Solomon Islands operations. We also rely heavily on the local civilian communities,’ Commander Mulder explained.

‘They know where much of the old munitions are. Working side by side with them, we can benefit from their extensive knowledge and experience.

‘Without this positive interaction and community support, the mission becomes very difficult.’

Commander Mulder said the deployment holds special significance for the personnel involved, as they contributed directly to the safety and wellbeing of the local people.

‘We are proud to help save lives, but we know we also help to improve lifestyles,’ Commander Mulder said.

‘Every time explosive remnants of war are removed, we provide the opportunity for potential economic prosperity by allowing families and communities to farm more land safely. That delivers more food cultivation for local use, as well as trade.

‘The use of mine-hunting vessels from Australia, a diving support ship from New Zealand and clearance divers this year allowed us to undertake more underwater clearances.

‘This also delivered a safer maritime environment for activities like tourism and fishing.’