NZ helps map and find unexploded WWII ordinances in Pacific

Eduard Korent grew up freediving.

Now he’s on his first deployment as an NZ Navy clearance diver and feels like he’s living the dream.

“For me, it's been a ten out of ten,” he says.

He knows it’s important and dangerous work – finding and mapping unexploded ordinances from World War II in the Pacific.

The Australian-led multinational Operation, Render Safe, involves the HMNZS Manawanui and combines divers and specialists from New Zealand, the US, and Canada.

It’s been hailed a success after finding 22 five-hundred-pound aerial bombs and four small arms dumps in the lagoon of Tuvalu’s Nanumea Island.

The operation is significant, but it’s a drop in the ocean in terms of the sheer scale of US unexploded ordinances in the Pacific, most of them in the Solomon Islands.

Charge d’Affaires for the US Embassy in Suva Tony Gruebel acknowledges there is a lot of work to be done in the Solomon Islands “but we are going to do more and more needs to be done”.

But the US relationship with the Solomon Islands has soured after the island nation received western condemnation, especially from the US, for signing a security agreement with China.

In a diplomatic retaliation, the Solomons Government has banned all military vessels from entering their ports except for New Zealand and Australia.

Gruebel says that the US is disappointed “but we are in close communication with the Solomon Islands Government and so we look forward to working with them to make sure all the procedures are in place for foreign warships coming through”.

China’s growing presence in the Pacific is likely to increase the number of joint operations between the US and western allies in the region in the future.

Even as HMNZS Manawanui docked in Suva after completing its operation, nearby in the harbour was the Chinese military ship Yuan Wang 3 used to track satellites and ballistic missiles but also widely known to have a dual use as a spy ship.

Commanding Officer John McQueen says the Australian Defence force's important relationship with the US and New Zealand, is crucial to maintaining security in the Pacific.

“We all have a common goal to ensure the prosperity of the southwest Pacific and ensure that the security environment remains how the Pacific nations wish, going forward”.

Australian Render Safe Contingent Commander Matthew Smith says the unexploded ordinances often pose a risk to locals, once located, it's up to the Tuvalu Government to decide the next move.

“From here we provide a risk assessment and come up with several options to dispose of or remove those items,” he says.