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Operation 'Render Safe' to clean up deadly WW2 legacy in Solomon Islands
More than 200 personnel from Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada are helping find and dispose of World War II ordinance in Solomon Islands.

It's called Operation Render Safe, a military effort to find and dispose of World War II explosives left behind in Solomons Islands.

More than 200 personnel from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada are taking part in the program.

Fighting in the islands was some of the fiercest of World War II, and people are still being killed or injured when bombs go off.

Pacific correspondent Sean Dorney reports from Solomon Islands.
Transcript
GROUND CONTROL OPERATOR: Five, four, three, two, one, zero.

SEAN DORNEY, REPORTER: These explosions are now a weekly event at Hells Point on the island of Guadalcanal where Japanese and American troops fought a series of ferocious battles in 1942 and 43.

STAFF SERGENT REX WAIWORI, SOLOMONS POLICE EXPLOSIVE ORDNANCE DISPOSAL UNIT: As with any battle of intensity, unexploded ordinance, (inaudible) ordinance can still remain and can be found scattered over large areas in the Solomon Islands.

MARK LASLEY, GOLDEN WEST HUMANITARIAN FOUNDATION: On Hells Point, very large amount of UXO (unexploded ordinance), we can clear 50 metre by 50 metre area and we have found as much as 1,100, 1200 UXO, sometimes more. It was a US munitions storage area.

SEAN DORNEY: Mark Lasley, a former US marine who is now with the American Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, heads up the Hells Point project, which is jointly funded by the US State Department and Australia's Defence Cooperation Program.

MARK LASLEY: These have all been around for so long and when they leak, get air in them and when the air hits the white phosphor it starts burning. So we usually wait until we have the shot set up and are ready to go, then place the projectiles on to the explosive.

SEAN DORNEY: So would that be American or Japanese?

MARK LASLEY: American.

SEAN DORNEY: Everybody moves well away and the white phosphorus explosives are destroyed.

GROUND CONTROLEER: Charge. Charge.

SEAN DORNEY: This fence marks the end of the Honiara International Airport, and less than a kilometre down this road is where they explode the World War II ordinance. Aircraft have to be warned so they get a clearance before they can let anything off.

GLEN NHAVIE, WWII EXPLODING BOMB SURVIVOR: It has very bad impact in the Solomon Islands. Some people they went to the garden, and when they make fires, they got killed by explosives. Others, they turn these explosives, extract something out of it, and they build something like dynamite and then they use them for fishing.

SEAN DORNEY: Glen Nhavie knows how dangerous the leftover World War II bombs are. He lost his right hand and part of his forearm in an experiment that went out horribly wrong.

GLEN NHAVIE: I tried to build something out of it, just to create another explosive out of it but it doesn't work out the way I think. Some of the test tubes I used was contaminated with other acids, therefore, it explodes. And so it affects my hand. It was a very bad experience, very painful. Apart from that it happened on a different island, so there is no medical attention there because it was very far.

SEAN DORNEY: The unit gets calls all the time to remove uncovered bombs and shells.

STAFF SERGENT REX WAIWORI: We discover 66, 75mm (inaudible) projectiles, and the locals had been living right on top of them.

SEAN DORNEY: Right on top of them. How big an area did you find that in?

STAFF SERGENT REX WAIWORI: Just about two by two metre big and then we found at a depth of about two metres down under the ground.

SEAN DORNEY: Special equipment has been imported to cut up the bombs in order to remove the fuses. Is there any danger they'll blow as you do this?

MARK LASLEY: We've never had one detonate on us. We've never had one blow. If it jams we have an emergency shut-off that we push and it shuts the saw down.

STAFF SERGENT REX WAIWORI: Here we use the mobile cutting unit to cut off the fuse, just the fuse part of it on the tail and we burn the explosives.

SEAN DORNEY: Australia helps fund the operation.

WARRANT OFFICER CRAIG BIRD, DEFENCE ADMIN ASSISTANT, AUST. HIGH COMMISSION: We've put over $2 million into Hells Point in the last three years through the development of infrastructure and purchase of equipment. This year alone we are spending another $750,000 out here.

SEAN DORNEY: Part of that funding helps with the training of a number of Solomon Islanders so they are internationally qualified in the field.

STAFF SERGENT REX WAIWORI: We have 13 that have been qualified through the international (inaudible) study, level two.

SEAN DORNEY: It seems you have a lot of work to do?

STAFF SERGENT REX WAIWORI: This year alone we have more than 10,000 but we look forward to having more than 12,000 to the end of this year.

MARK LASLEY: So far this group is doing quite well. I think the project will just continue to grow.

SEAN DORNEY: But despite the work and the presence of Operation Render Safe, it will be many years before Solomon Islands is free from the dangerous legacy of World War II.
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