What does another day at work like for you? Maybe sitting in front of your computer, going through documents and attending meetings, or probably dealing with customers and refilling stocks in the inventory. How about diving for wrecks under the sea or digging the soil in hopes of finding unexploded bombs of World War II? As for the crew of Operation Render Safe, that’s what their “another day at work” is like.

WWII Bombs Still Claiming Lives

It’s been almost 80 years since the Second World War had ended. However, its dangers remain today, in the form of the ordnance that remained unexploded, lurking especially in the waters of the Pacific Islands, where most of the battles took place at the height of World War II. In Germany, for instance, more than 2,000 tons of unexploded bombs are still being discovered every year. In the Solomon Islands, where one of the fiercest battles between Japan and the United States happened, unknown quantities of explosives still remained, scattered across the over 900 islands.

Bloody Angle, a scene of the battle of the Tenaru, as seen from the American lines. 700 Japanese were killed in a futile attempt to cross the beach on the left. Artillery fire, concentrated in the cocoanut palms, did tremendous damage. (Archives Branch, USMC History DivisionCC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Many had fallen victim to the uncleared bombs. Just this May, one victim named Charley Noda died at the National Referral Hospital after falling victim to a bomb blast a week prior. According to Solomon Star,

He was one of four people – two male and two female – including his wife, who were injured in the World War II unexploded ordnance when it went off while he and others were attending a youth fundraising drive at Lengakiki in suburban Honiara last Sunday afternoon.

A young civil aviation engineer named Raziv Hilly was the first casualty of the accident.

Joint Effort

A number of agencies are working toward clearing the islands— the depots, dumps, and old storage facilities where the unexploded and corroded munitions could be. Countries like the United States, Canada, the UK, New Zealand, and Australia are joining forces to keep the inhabitants safe away from explosion accidents.

Norwegian People’s Aid established a program in the Solomon Islands in 2019 to help its government through a centralized database that would show the extent of contamination of unexploded remains. The program got suspended when two workers died while trying to detonate a bomb in their office and home. Meanwhile, the United States said that they will still continue to provide support in removing the bombs from the island.

Operation Render Safe

The Australian Defence Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal, since late 2013, has been on a mission to free the Solomon Islands from the WWII bombs, too, through what is called Operation Render Safe. The operation consists of about 200 Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialists and support staff not only from the ADF but also from New Zealand Defence Force, Canadian Armed Forces, the United States Navy, and Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

Aside from that, the operation aims to stop the practice of fish-bombing, when some fishermen would use explosives to catch fish which is extremely harmful to the environment and the fishermen.

In the Russel Islands, some of the villages had more than 50 pieces of ordnance that were found and removed. Additionally, Operation Render Safe was also active in clearing more than 100 sites on Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. About 16 tons of explosives were already removed from there.

During Operation RENDER SAFE, the Australian Defence Force (ADF) disposed of over 30 WWII Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) on Santo. (Australian High Commission, Vanuatu/Facebook)

All the ordnance that the Australian Defence Force had found on the operations since 2014 were “identified, documented, collected and/or, where possible, destroyed.

In 2014, the Australian High Commission Honiara said that “more than 1600 items of unexploded World War 2 ordnance including grenades, mortars and high explosive shells have been identified and safely cleared away from a number of sites around Honiara. These numbers will increase again when the additional material being cleared away across Central Province is tallied up later in the week.”

The Australian Defence Force also assisted Nauru in 2020; still, part of Operation Render Safe. However, the operations’ in-country activities halted after COVID-19, and travel restrictions were put in place.