Great Barrier Reef The Site Of Aborted US Military Training Mission
July 22, 2013

US Fighter Jets Drop Unarmed Bombs Near Great Barrier Reef During Training Exercise

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

A pair of US Marine Corps fighter jets dropped a total of four unarmed bombs on the Great Barrier Reef in what is being described as a military training exercise gone wrong, according to various media reports.

According to BBC News, the AV-8B Harriers were taking part in a joint American-Australian training exercise known as Talisman Saber. They had intended to drop their payloads at a bombing range at nearby Townshend Island on Tuesday, but the mission was aborted.

The jets were low on fuel and the pilots could not land without first dropping their bombs, Harriet Alexander of The Telegraph reported on Sunday. The pilots were forced to drop the bombs in the World Heritage Site off the Queensland coast, American military officials said.

"Due to low fuel and inability to land with the amount of ordnance they were carrying, the on-scene commander determined it was necessary to designate an emergency jettison area for the ordnance," US Navy Commander William Marks, of the 7th Fleet Public Affairs, told reporters, according to The Australian.

He added that the bombs were jettisoned in a "safe, unarmed state and did not explode," and according to UPI reports a spokesman said the bombs pose "minimal risk or threat to the public, the marine environment or civilian shipping transiting the reef area."

The 7th Fleet also noted the bombs, which weighed a combined 4,000 pounds, were jettisoned in a deep channel some distance away from the reef itself in order to minimize the potential damage, the AFP news agency reports. Furthermore, they said the bombs were dropped at depths sufficient enough they will not pose a threat to shipping or marine navigation.

Each Harrier reportedly dropped one BDU 45, which are dummy bombs, and one GBU 12, which were unarmed. Both US military and Australian authorities were investigating the incident, and they said their findings would be presented to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA).

However, that did little to calm the ire of some officials, including Green Party Great Barrier Reef spokesperson Larissa Waters, who called the action "outrageous" and questioned, "Have we gone completely mad? Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?"

According to Alexander, the Great Barrier Reef is the world's largest living structure. It stretches along the Australian coastline for 1,500 miles and is home to over 1,600 types of fish, as well as 30 different whale and dolphin species.

The US Navy is reportedly exploring options for retrieving the bombs, which were dropped on the second day of the three-week-long training exercise. Talisman Saber will last until August 5 and involves nearly 28,000 American and Australian military personnel. GBRMPA Chairman Russell Reichelt told the media the four ten-foot bombs would most likely be recovered by divers.