Canadian soldiers clear explosives from Solomon Islands

Canadian Armed Forces soldiers Sergeant Don Read, of 4 Engineer Support Regiment, and Corporal Morgan Wallbott, of 2 Combat Engineer Regiment, prepare to destroy explosive remnants of war at Lever Point on Mbanika Island on 28 September, 2016, during Operation Render Safe. *** Local Caption *** Canadian Armed Forces soldiers joined the multinational task force in the Solomon Islands for Operation Render Safe from September 12 to October 7. The ongoing Australian-led operation aims to reduce the hazards of explosive remnants of war and enhance safety in the Solomon Islands. In the first two weeks of the current operation more than 2500 pieces of unexploded ordnance or 10 tonnes were recovered for disposal by the multinational teams. The operation involves over 180 personnel from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom who are working with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force.

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Canadian Armed Forces personnel aided in the recovery of more than 10 tonnes of Second World War-era explosives during the Australian-led, multinational-mission Operation RENDER SAFE, from September 7 to October 7.

In October 1945, Mbanika, one of the over 900 islands that make up the Solomon Islands, shook for three days from explosions caused by an uncontrollable ammunition depot fire. More than 4000 tonnes of explosives and projectiles were destroyed or flung across the island and surrounding waters by a fire that raged at the 9th Marine Ammunition Storage Area at Lever Point. The unexploded ordnance remains a danger for locals to this day — in the past decade alone 12 islanders have been killed, either by finding the ordnance accidently or by trying to make fish bombs.

Op RENDER SAFE is an enduring mission to help rid the Southwest Pacific of the dangers of explosive remnants of war. Canadian Armed Forces Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) specialists from 2 Combat Engineer Regiment (2 CER) and 4 Engineer Support Regiment (4 ESR) formed one of three teams who rotated through Yandina, the main settlement on Mbanika Island, to find and destroy explosive ordnance in the overgrown jungle.

In the first two weeks of the operation, more than 2500 pieces of unexploded ordnance were recovered for disposal by the multinational teams. 2 CER EOD Team One retrieved and disposed of 247 explosive projectiles from Mbanika Island during the operation.

“Using explosive ordnance reconnaissance, we started at the shoreline and pushed into the jungle to find armed and unarmed projectiles, ranging from hand grenades and 75-mm high explosive anti-tank rounds, through to 105-mm artillery rounds,” said Corporal Morgan Wallbott. “If we can help destroy the majority of the ordnance […], it will allow locals to redevelop this area and help their economy, through the production of coconut and copra. Unfortunately, it will still take a long time as a lot of rounds are buried below the surface.”

Energizing the success of Operation RENDER SAFE, in a large way, was the extensive community engagement in the lead-up to the mission. Cpl Wallbott mentioned that he was impressed with the assistance that the Canadian EOD team received from locals and The Royal Solomon Island Police Force. The Solomon Island Police deal with around 10 000 explosive remnants of war every year.

“The [Solomon Island Police] have been instrumental in helping us to locate explosives in the area congested with projectiles, and they beat the ground with us,” said Cpl Wallbot. “They have been doing this for years, so they know exactly what they are looking for and can help us identify what is found. [They are] also our link to the local villagers, who are a key to our success in removing unexploded ordnance.”

The biggest challenge during the operation was the thick, hot, and humid jungle. Cpl Wallbot revealed that it is difficult to move through the vines and hanging branches and locate the explosives which have been covered with undergrowth for 70 years.

“The highlight of our time in the Solomon Islands is the knowledge that we have been able to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience and make life safer for the islanders,” said Cpl Wallbot. “It’s also has been a good learning experience for the team and the feedback we can provide participants of the next Operation RENDER SAFE will give them a good base of where to conduct EOD activities.”

Military personnel from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom participated in the operation on the Guadalcanal and around the Russell Islands and Florida Group.

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