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In Search of Safe Ground Explosive Remnants of World War II in the Solomon Islands Mette Eliseussen and John Rodsted

Copyright © 2015 SafeGround Inc Copyright Photos © 2015 John Rodsted and Mette Eliseussen Images pg. 1 - 7 and 22 - 23 © National Archives and Records Administration Design and Layout: Kimberley McCosker

All rights for commercial/profit reproduction, in any form, are reserved. SafeGround authorises the partial reproduction or translation of this material for scientific, educational or research purposes, provided that SafeGround and the source document are properly acknowledged. Permission to reproduce the full document in any form, whether for commercial, profit or non-profit purposes, must be requested in writing. This report was produced by SafeGround with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It does not necessarily represent the views or the policy of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade or the Commonwealth of Australia.

Oslo, 2015 Print: Tiskara Zelina, Croatia Printed in Zagreb ISBN: 978-0-9872996-1-1

In Search of Safe Ground

Explosive Remnants of World War II in the Solomon Islands

Mette Eliseussen and John Rodsted

Edited by Kimberley McCosker, Helen Stanger and Lorel Thomas

This report was produced by SafeGround with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It could not have been completed without the additional help of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, and the Solomon Islands National National Museum. We gratefully acknowledge their support.

Glossary of Terms CCM

Convention on Cluster Munitions


Explosive ordnance disposal


Explosive remnants of war


Golden West Humanitarian Foundation


International Campaign to Ban Landmines


International Mine Action Standards


Mine Ban Treaty


Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat


Royal Solomon Islands Police Force

US or USA United States of America UXO

Unexploded Ordnance


World War I


World War II



Explosives await destruction at Hell’s Point, home of the RSIPF EOD Team training school.

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Foreword Explosive remnants from World War II (WWII) are lying abandoned across the Pacific region, and continue to endanger lives and hinder development 70 years after the conclusion of hostilities. WWII turned much of the Pacific into a battlefield, and at the end of the war foreign military forces left behind sunken ships, burnt out tanks, abandoned stockpiles and large empty gun emplacements, as well as unexploded ordnance (UXO) that continues to litter the land and sea. Limited research has been undertaken to understand and map the impacts of explosive remnants of war (ERW). However SafeGround is working with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), local communities and other partners throughout the Pacific Islands region to reduce the impacts of ERW on communities and clear this ongoing legacy x


of WWII. PIFS has identified the Solomon Islands as a priority country, a concept that was supported by SafeGround’s independent research, and this is where our work begins. This report on the Solomon Islands is a clear-sighted account of the legacy of ERW which have littered the island nation since WWII. The research has been fieldand interview-driven, and conducted in three stages. The first stage involved extensive desk research that delved into historical archives, and utilised historical photographs and video footage to understand the nature of the conflict in the Solomon Islands. It also helped to locate sites of battlefields and stockpile stations where explosive remnants may remain. The second stage comprised in-

A corroding bomb is wedged in a tree near a village in the Russell Islands

field research completed during October and November 2014, and the third built on the previous two stages with indepth research, extensive interviews and comprehensive visual and written documentation throughout April 2015. This research has been collated into In Search of Safe Ground. The primary focus of SafeGround’s work is to establish a foundation of knowledge regarding the impacts of ERW on communities and their environment throughout nine affected Pacific Island nations. Practical research is undertaken in locations with suspected high levels of ERW contamination, capturing the stories of the affected individuals and communities and to map the diverse range of current and potential future impacts of ERW for Pacific Island communities and the environment. The cornerstones of this program are the partnership with PIFS and the extensive field research working with local communities, national governments, civil society actors and mine action agencies.

With this knowledge, SafeGround will help promote awareness of the magnitude of the problem and advocate change. We will work closely with governments, local communities, and civil society groups, spurring them to take action to remedy this region-wide problem. In the years since the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty (MBT) and 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) were adopted, a greater international understanding of the plight of communities at risk from dangerous legacies of past wars has emerged. Afghanistan, Cambodia, Bosnia and Angola are just a select few examples of the many countries that have suffered, and still continue to suffer, from this dangerous legacy. These countries have benefited from international attention, which provided funds, focus and systematic clearance undertaken in former battlefields. However, historical memory can be short and wars easily lost from the international


Explosive remnants from WWII endanger lives and hinder development 70 years after the conclusion of hostilities.

consciousness. This is the case for some battlefields of WWII, particularly in regards to the Pacific Theatre. War surged over many idyllic islands from 1941, cutting communities apart until the end of hostilities in 1945. As the



protagonists demobilised and returned home, Pacific Islanders found a deadly legacy of abandoned munition stockpiles, battlefields littered with mixed detritus of war, and pollution from sunken ships. History books are full of the military exploits of WWII, but few have looked at the fallout affecting local communities post conflict. The aim of In Search of Safe Ground in the Solomon Islands is to research the impacts of 70 years of living with ERW and to find ways to remedy the problem. The final products of the project are a short film on the impact of ERW in the Solomon Islands, a photographic exhibition and this country report. In Search of Safe Ground is not intended to be an exhaustive study, but rather a factual snapshot of life with ERW in the Solomon Islands. The aim of this project is to start conversations with present and potential stakeholders involved in resolving these residual problems from WWII.



Above: RSIPF EOD team members collect munitions in the hills outside of Honiara. The munitions will be taken away and safely destroyed. Opposite: When a logging company cleared this area of land on the southern shores of Kolombangara in 2014, they uncovered more than 200 rounds of Japanese artillery shells within a radius of 300 metres.

About the researchers John Rodsted has over 25 years’ experience working in mine action, working in many countries around the world documenting the legacies of war. John has wellestablished contacts in the Pacific and has seen first hand the considerable damage done by WWII remnants of war. In 2013 John undertook a commission to produce a film for Cleared Ground Humanitarian Demining in Palau, which involved extensive research and on site filming. As an Austcare ambassador he worked in East Timor in 2006 during the civil unrest. He has reported for the international press, international non-government organisations and governments in places such as Eritrea, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Vietnam, Sudan, Lebanon, West Sahara, Bosnia, Sri Lanka and many others. xiv

Mette Eliseussen began work in mine action in 1989. She co-founded and was part of the Afghan Campaign to Ban Landmines and received the ‘Barn av Jorden’ award for her work with children in Kabul during war. She has worked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cambodia and in Western Sahara/Algeria. In her native Norway, Mette conducted action research amongst Muslim girls exposed to arranged and forced marriage. She has had extensive experience designing, managing and evaluating projects regarding landmine awareness, early childhood development, public health, women’s literacy and micro credit for women. She is an experienced conference facilitator, interviewer and filmmaker.

IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND About the researchers

Together, John and Mette were directors of Ban Bus, and have coordinated speaking tours across the USA and more than 20 countries in Europe to lobby national governments and civil society on the Mine Ban Treaty and Convention on Cluster Munitions.

SafeGround researcher John Rodsted with ammunition found in the Solomon Islands.

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Contents Glossary vii Foreword x About the Researchers


History 1 War Remnants 9 Land Reclaimed 41 In A Perfect World


Afterword 64 Reference 66



Old munitions come in all shapes and sizes.



Stockpiled munitions were abandoned in the Solomon Islands following the end of the war. Image Š NARA.

Chapter 1


World War II in the Solomon Islands: 1941 - 1943

The beginning

The Japanese Advance: December 1941 to May 1942 Japan entered WWII with the covert bombing of Pearl Harbor on 7 December, 1941. Simultaneously, major assaults struck Asia-Pacific nations in a high-speed grab for territory. Their advance was largely unimpeded through the region with small, undermanned and ill-equipped forces outgunned and outnumbered by the Japanese on a massive scale. Australian troops were mostly committed to conflicts in North Africa, and the United States of America (USA) only entered hostilities after Pearl Harbor was attacked. The Japanese surge took Hong Kong, pushed down through Indochina to Singapore and advanced across many Pacific nations until it reached the Solomon Islands. The land grab left Japanese supply lines and troop numbers stretched thin, but 2


without serious opposition, it was easy for an occupation of this scale to be achieved. The question, was could it be maintained? The Japanese forces landed in Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands in May of 1942 with a construction crew tasked to build an airfield, and a light security force was also deployed to guard them. On the adjacent island of Tulagi, a more extensive Japanese presence established a sea plane and supply base.

Stockpiled munitions are often found exactly as they were left at the end of the war. Image Š NARA.

Pushing back

The first counter offensive, Guadalcanal and Operation Watchtower: 1942 until February 1943 The USA and Asia-Pacific countries, including Australia, were caught off guard with the Pearl Harbour attacks and invasion of the region. The Japanese advance pushed far to the south east, and it seemed likely that the vital supply line between the USA and Australia could be cut. With many of the USA’s naval assets either destroyed or severely damaged during the Pearl Harbour attack, it took time for a counter offensive to be mustered and mobilised. American civilians rushed to military recruiting centres and enlisted en masse, while the industrial arm swung into action to support an ever-growing war effort. A large military build-up began in New

Zealand and other Pacific nations. Troops, supplies and the machinery of war rolled in to prepare for the first attack, an operation codenamed ‘Watchtower’. A task force was assembled in the waters near Fiji and sailed north towards Guadalcanal, under cover of bad weather The force sailed into the waters off Guadalcanal late on the night of 6 August, 1942. The force split into two assault fronts and simultaneously attacked Tulagi (Blue Beach) and Guadalcanal (Red Beach) early on 7 August. The 3,000 US marines who attacked Tulagi met strong and persistent resistance, but the main force of 11,000 that attacked Guadalcanal met very little. As a result of the naval bombardment, most of the

Japanese defenders and construction workers fled while the US naval presence withdrew due to low fuel supplies and the threat of the Japanese counter attacks. The landing force was left in a very vulnerable position holding the area around Henderson Airfield. The Japanese underestimated the size of the US force and landed 917 men east of the US positions on Guadalcanal on 19 August. Two days later they attacked in a frontal assault over an open sand bar and were killed almost to the man. This failed attack was bolstered by another 3,000 troops and fierce fighting eschewed as both sides poured additional men into the battle. IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND History


Operation Cleanslate

The campaign from Guadalcanal to Bougainville Island: February 1942 With Guadalcanal and Tulagi firmly held, the US now had a solid foothold from which to launch military operations. Several major strategic possibilities existed in the minds of the Allied commanders. The first was gaining land where airfields either existed or could be easily constructed. Air superiority was recognised as the key to a fast advance through the Pacific. Air power gave the capacity to assault naval assets, and offered the possibility of strangling Japanese supply lines. The only limit was distance: attack and bomber aircraft could only fly on one tank of fuel. In support of the air power doctrine came a ‘bypass’ approach to fighting through



the Pacific islands. The US military did not need to fight and win every island. Many islands could be bypassed and isolated by the air power. If US aircraft could destroy Japanese troop and supply ships, they would be able to maroon large numbers of Japanese troops on remote islands, leaving them no way to escape or resupply. This would effectively render them useless and out of the war. Large numbers of Japanese troops who evacuated Guadalcanal landed on the Russell Islands some 35 miles to the north. Admiral Halsey of the US navy was concerned these troops would be reinforced to counter attack Guadalcanal. He put this argument to the US High

Operation Cleanslate. Early in the morning of 21 February, 1942, the US marines landed unopposed on Banika Island in the Russell Group. Within seven days of the first landing, 9,000 men were transforming the island into an aircraft runway, forward radar station, a major forward operating base and staging area. The Japanese had already withdrawn north to New Georgia and the surrounding islands, with a large contingent based around the new airfield on Munda Point. While the US met no initial opposition

The Solomon Islands is littered with all kinds of WWII debris, including rusted shipwrecks and corroding planes as well as degrading ERW. Images Š NARA.

Command in Washington, requesting approval to attack the Russell Islands and flush the Japanese out. Admiral King, Chief of Naval Operations, was reluctant to grant this approval, preferring to favour the bypass strategy wherever possible. Halsey was given approval to plan an invasion of the Russell Islands once it was accepted that they posed a genuine threat. This was codenamed for this invasion was

when they landed on the Russell Islands, a Japanese air attack came on 6 March and raids continued almost every day until 15 April. By this time, the US had a strong presence on the Russell Islands, and was poised to make the next move. The next stage was New Georgia and the surrounding islands. This would need to be a major attack, and one waged on many fronts. IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND History


The next step north

New Georgia and Operation Toenails: June to October 1943 With their defeat on Guadalcanal and their absence on the Russell Islands, the Japanese needed to consolidate to make a stand in a tactically-sound location. The New Georgia island group was an ideal location for this. The Japanese had an established airstrip on Munda Point, the holding of which was imperative to stop the US tactic of island hopping and airstrip acquisition. The distance by sea between the Russell Islands and New Georgia would also help the Japanese in their defence. Admiral Halsey planned a two-phased attack on the New Georgia group in Operation Toenails. Phase One aimed to secure the islands of Vangunu, New Georgia, Rendova and the surrounding islands. Stage Two was designed to push the Japanese further to 6


the north by securing Vella La Vella and isolating Kolombangara. Landings were made in the south of New Georgia on 21 June and in the north around Rice Harbour on 5 July. The northern party objective was to secure the shore from Japanese resupply and push south, before meeting up with the southern forces. The objective in the south was to take Munda Airfield. These two locations would eventually join to form a two-pronged pincer that would squeeze the Japanese forces between them. Severe jungle fighting ensued for the next few months, but the Munda Aifield was seized and operational by 5 August, 1943. The second phase towards the northern islands of Vella La Vella and Kolombangara

began around 6 August, and was finally declared complete on 9 October, 1943. The central Solomon Islands were secure, allowing focus to shift towards Bougainville Island and onto Rabaul.

Stockpiled munitions await destruction or dumping after the conclusion of hostilities. Images Š NARA.

Abandoned ordnance is scattered in the hills behind Honiara.

Chapter 2


The legacy of WWII bombs in the Solomon Islands

After the war With the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945 and Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, WWII came to an end. The Japanese surrendered unconditionally, bringing an end to hostilities. All combatants were eager for repatriation as soon as possible but for some, this would still be years away. Former battlefields across the Solomon Islands needed to be cleared of stockpiles of munitions before a full withdrawal could be completed. In some locations, the size of stockpiles needing to be disposed of were massive. An estimation of the amount remaining in the Solomon Islands is unknown, but as a comparison the US supply stockpiles to the south on Vanuatu amounted to an estimated nine million tonnes of munitions and equipment waiting for disposal.



A small area of jungle near Kolombangara, only a few hundred square metres in size, was covered with hundreds of munitions abandoned by the Japanese. Local people have begun clearing the vegetation and wish to build a new village here for over 50 families, but it is not safe to do so.



Leaching explosives Risks to life, land and sea All explosives are a cocktail of chemistry with one specific aim: to create an explosion by transforming a solid form to an expanding gas in the shortest time possible. The root of all explosives can be traced back to gunpowder, developed by the Chinese around the 9th century. Explosive technologies have come a long way since then, with modern explosives having many forms and components. Chemists have developed a wide array of explosives for every conceivable application. An example is the difference between high and low explosions. A high explosion is more desirable for a munition, allowing a shell can be propelled over a long distance. In contrast, a lower explosion is more useful in mining where rock is to be fractured and not propelled or blasted away.1 12


The munitions in use during WWII were varied in composition and chemistry. One particularly dangerous element is picric acid, a chemical widely employed as a main explosive in many Japanese munitions. Picric acid is a toxin that can cause a wide variety of damage. Among the damage caused are physical illnesses, including dermatitis, anaemia, and liver and kidney damage. Other symptoms can develop with higher exposure levels, contact with eyes and mucous membranes and ingestion. If between two and five grams of picric acid are ingested, exposure symptoms can be a bitter taste, headache, vertigo, nausea, vomiting,diarrhoea, yellow colouration of the skin, and the presence of blood or plasma in the urine. High doses cause

destruction of red blood cells, bleeding kidneys and hepatitis, as well as yellow discolouration of all tissue including the conjunctiva and the aqueous humor (fluid between the iris and the cornea) and as a result can cause yellow tinted vision. It is also carcinogenic and can cause changes in genetic material. Corneal injury has resulted from eyes splashed with a solution of picric acid and dust; fumes cause irritation that may be aggravated by sensitisation. Once the low safety threshold of picric acid is exceeded it is considered a toxic substance, poisoning the environment. Just 0.1 milligrams of picric acid per cubic metre of air is considered the maximum safe saturation level. This chemical, and others, potentially affect the local population on the Solomon

Islands. No studies have been done to date, but research conducted for In Search of Safe Ground raises significant points for consideration. Many abandoned munitions are filled with picric acid. A 105mm artillery shell would contain approximately 2 kg while a 150mm shell would have up to 5 kg. When compared to ‘safe levels’ of 0.1 milligrams per cubic metre, it is not difficult to pass this maximum safety threshold with any form of handling. Picric acid does not readily decompose on land or evaporate in significant quantities. It does dissolve in water, and as such the local toxicity will depend largely on the saturation of munitions and the depth of water. Seventy years of degradation has broken down the shells containing these chemicals. As the casings rust away, the explosive is exposed to the environment and anyone who may handle it. Munitions’ casing corrodes over time, often leaching dangerous chemicals and severely affecting local people, food chains and environments.

We are now entering a period when the toxicity levels may rise and consequent

Seventy years of degradation has broken down the shells containing these chemicals. As the casings rust away, the explosive is exposed to the environment and anyone who may handle it.

effects become more serious. A large number of bacteria are capable of metabolising many chemicals, however, relatively little is known about the natural abiotic and biotic transformation and degradation of explosives, particularly in estuarine and marine environments. IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND War Remnants


“We are scared to use this land but we must to make a living.” - Maney Jezerih 14


Munition degradation on land

Maney works as a timber cutter in the forests surrounding Honiara. He frequently comes into contact with WWII ERW.

Munitions left on land pose an obvious threat to any population. Areas that were once battlefields now feel the pressure of land development as the timber industry, farming and new villages encroach on the jungles. Farmers and villagers have a very real fear of these ERW. Clearing land and felling trees becomes a potentially life threatening activity, with a significant risk of man or machine coming into contact with explosive remnants. Lighting fires and burning post-harvest stubble have the possibility of detonating sub-surface munitions. Vigorous digging of the land carries the fear of hitting a munition and causing detonation. Fear of using the land is the overriding issue and extensive interviews with farmers and land users reinforce this.

Maney Jezerih works in the forests surrounding Honiara on Guadalcanal as a timber cutter. “We are scared to use this land but we must to make a living. I work up here cutting trees for the forestry industry and we often find munitions or are told of stockpiles in the jungle. We are scared every time we fell a tree as to what might happen. I see these bombs and want to stay well away from them. It’s very good when the Police EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] teams come here and remove bombs. I feel safer.” Rex Oderinggi is trying to clear the land for a new village at Teme, on the southern tip of Kolombangara Island to the north of New Georgia Island. “There is an old Japanese airfield about one or two kilometres to the west of here, and many IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND War Remnants


I want [the bombs] taken away and we can be safe. - Willy Basi, Honiara

Japanese were there. They defended this coastline from the US. I do not think the fighting came to the land here but the area was bombed by the US air force and navy. There is one of those big bombs a little farther into the jungle. Many Japanese munitions have been abandoned around here too, and it is dangerous to clear the land. I hope the police teams can come and take these bombs away very soon.” Rex showed us over 200 live and unfired Japanese artillery rounds within a 300 metre radius. Many more extended into the jungle. Willy Basi lives in the hills overlooking 16


Honiara in Guadalcanal. He notified the EOD team at Hell’s Point of three bombs near his village. On April 28, 2015 a fourman EOD team went to his village. Willy said, “I have this small military museum and search the surrounding hills for military artefacts. I want helmets and water bottles and old guns. I do not want ammunition as it is dangerous and I am scared the pikininis [children] will find them and get killed. This was Hill 31 during the war and the US had foxholes all around the top. I want them taken away and we can be safe.” The team went with Willy to the location and recovered 69 60mm fused mortars. Some had the safety clips still fitted and some did not. All mortars were recovered, removed to Hell’s Point and destroyed that week. In blue sandals, 15-year-old Alek Sou walks across a large pile of munitions, balancing on rusty explosive rounds. He is looking for more detonators that he uses as firecrackers when he gets home. He says he almost always comes across

Top: Willy Basi lives in the hills overlooking Honiara, and notified the RSIPF EOD team of ERW contamination. Bottom: The Hell’s Point EOD team removed 69 60mm mortars from the hills near Willy Basi’s house.

abandoned munitions when he goes hunting bats in the forest or spear diving along the coast of Lever Point. As we left his village, Alek’s mother, Florence Sou, told us, “I am afraid of the bombs and that they might hurt my children, and I tell them again and again to keep away from them. I hope they do as I tell!” The many piles of munitions along the beach are a result of locals harvesting brass from bombs casings. Residents from Yandina and even Honiara are known to visit these areas. With the help of diving equipment, they access ammunition dumped deep into the sea. Once they have removed the brass they deposit the munitions stripped of brass close to land. There is evidence that others have accessed and extracted dynamite from these pieces of ordnance.

The RSIPF EOD team carrying mortars away from Hill 31.

In the water near shore on the outskirts of Yandina, the main port in Russell Islands, Mr Akwai is carrying a corroded and broken munition from underneath a WWII shipwreck. Children in white and blue school uniforms on their way home IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND War Remnants


are busy launching their canoes next to him as he approaches the shore. The police officer takes note and measures the munition. Akwai found it last week, and he is worried about the children playing or tampering with it. “Children come to play, swim and launch their canoes here all the time, it is their main beach and closest to the village. It is only over there.” He points to the houses across a small field. He has tried to hide the bomb. “How long will the bomb stay?” asks Ruth. The local police have to leave it be, as they are not EOD specialists. They explain that all they can do is file a report and pass it on to the EOD team in Honiara. “Next time the EOD team is able to make a tour out of Guadalcanal, we can take them here to destroy the bomb,” says constable Gato. Last time they came was in February 2014, over one year ago. Akwai’s wife Ruth grabs hold of the small boy sitting next to her and fiercely instructs him to stay away from the bomb that Akwai puts back underneath the wreck.



Basil looks worried while the local Yandina policeman measures and inspects the bomb sticking out of the jungle floor. This is where he and his family come crabbing. “It is a suspected chemical bomb” says Constable Douglas. Some 15 years ago, there was a big bush fire burning for a week. Basil, along with other members from Hai village, watched and listened as bomb after bomb blasted. The wind carried thick smoke that lingered for days making it hard to breathe. No one was able to work, or go fishing. They had to stay only in the village. After the fire ended, experts from the US told people to keep away from the bombs and the area. They told villagers that many of the bombs were chemical bombs, which are very dangerous. “We did not know,” says Basil. He continues, “Many people in my village have experienced problems since. My daughter, along with other children, is covered in blisters. We don’t know what it is. The doctors at the hospital don’t know what it is. Our daughter is covered

Alec eagerly collects the small explosive ‘pellets’ into a plastic bottle amongst the mangroves at Lever Point.

I am afraid of the bombs and that they might hurt my children. I tell them to keep away. - Florence Sou, Lever Pt

Top: Russell Island locals believe these sores may be caused by Mustard Gas residue that has leaked from old munitions. Bottom: Basil’s daughter, pictured, is covered in blisters that doctors are unable to diagnose.

in blisters filled with some clear substance for several weeks; it disappears only to reappear later. It is painful and itchy, and she misses school regularly. There is nothing we can do to help her.” He and the policemen start talking about the many cases of young men of Hai village going bald. No one knows why this is happening, and the men in their early twenties won’t talk about it and are always covering

their heads inside or outside. “They have stopped going to church, because they refuse to take their hats off. It is affecting the community in many different ways. We wonder if it has something to do with the chemical bombs,” adds Basil. “We are catching and eating fish every day twice a day from the areas where the bombs are, and our crab traps are set in the forest close to the bombs. This makes us scared.” IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND War Remnants


Munition disposal in the sea The USA favoured a simple, quick and cheap method of disposal. The easiest available and most accessible technique was to simply dump munitions and war equipment in the sea. This disposal method was employed in the Solomon Islands and most other former battle and supply areas. Barges and ships were loaded with munitions and ordered to sail to deep waters, pushing their cargo into the ocean, where they would be out of sight and out of mind - at least for the time being. Dumping in deep water took longer than closer inshore waters, and many vessels barely made it into a few metres of water before crate after crate of munitions rolled into the sea. Ships and barges laden with munitions could take more loads for 20


dumping if the sailing time from stockpile to dump site was short. Barges and ships were loaded and sailed offshore into “deep water” and unloaded their cargoes directly into the sea. Archival film shows ships heavily-laden with crates of munitions being unloaded into the ocean. Many racks of rollers were deployed over the sides of ships, and crates were dumped into the sea as fast as crews could handle them. To give some scale to the amount of munitions that needed to be disposed of, the amount stockpiled in Vanuatu alone was nine million tonnes. Some of this was buried on land and some was burned, but the majority was dumped in the sea. Exact figures are hard to come by for the Solomon

Islands, but the existing physical evidence indicates stockpiles were extensive. Instructions were to ship the munitions into deep water and begin dumping. The reality was far more expedient. Ammunition supply points were obvious

Corroding bombs lie near one of the Solomon Island’s beautiful beaches.

stockpiles needing disposal. More difficult locations, like battle area stockpiles on the former front lines and locations where munitions had been fired and failed to explode, were considered too inconsequential to warrant searching for, transporting and disposing of. Many have stayed exactly as they were left over the past 70 years.

Lever Point and the Russell Islands Lever Point on the Russell Islands is an example of where this kind of ‘disposal’ took place. Large ridges of munitions run from near the shore in shallow waters out to deeper waters. Seventy years later, the shell casings are rusting away and chemicals that make up the explosives are being dissolved into the ocean and absorbed into the local food chain. Bombs under the water leach dangerous chemicals into marine environments, potentially poisoning valuable marine food sources.

The Russell Islands were a large regional supply point once the Japanese were pushed to the north, and all supplies

remaining in the area needed to be disposed of. Lever Point runs to the north of Yandina, the main town, and it became an easy location to load ships and barges to run munitions into sea. The northern tip of Lever Point was the starting point from which to unload these stockpiles. The ships ran along the shallows and began dumping as soon as the shore was out of sight. Two massive ridges of dumped munitions currently run from near the shoreline out into deeper water. At some points, these ridges are nearly 10 metres high and continue for an undefined distance from the coastal shallows into deeper water. The ridges have become man-made reefs: munitions have fused together and shells are rusting away, with fish now living amongst the degrading bombs. However, the ‘reef’ is a soup of leaching toxic waste, including chemicals like picric acid. These toxins are ingested by the fish and ultimately consumed by the local population. No health studies on this are available, but IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND War Remnants


with the recommended toxicity levels as low as they are, artificial munition ‘reefs’ like these pose the question: what levels are in the food chain and ultimately being consumed by the general population? This is particularly significant in a population where fish is a staple food source eaten at most meals.The munitions dumped in shallow waters are often recovered by local people who want the explosives for fish bombing. This sort of removal is not a method of disposal. If munitions can be accessed at any time in the future they are still no more than stockpiled, irrespective of their location. Disposal requires that munitions be permanently inaccessible and out of action. The most expedient method of dumping in shallow water was undertaken simply to speed up the process of ‘completing’ military operations in the Solomon Islands.



Bombs are stacked on the edge of the ocean, ready to be transported on barges and dumped into the sea at the end of WWII. Image © NARA.

Poison gas

Legality, morality, stockpiles and abandonment Poison gas became the weapon of choice during World War I (WWI). On April 22, 1915, a few days before the ANZAC landings on Gallipoli, the German army drifted clouds of chlorine gas across the Western Front during the Second Battle of Ypres. A new era of conflict had arrived. An arms race ensued, with all sides developing toxic cocktails that were liberally used. Mustard gas was one of the components developed and soon became a weapon of choice.2 A generation of combatants was affected by these gas attacks, which caused major blistering on the skin and burnt the lungs and eyes. The post-WWI conferences realised the horrors of these weapons, and recognised that the impact would continue if they were used again. Consequently, 24


they were banned by the 1925 Geneva Protocol and again in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. Despite a ban being accepted by most of the world since 1925, many military forces developed chemical and gas weapons before and during WWII. The British had an estimated stockpile of 40,719 tons, the US stockpile approximated 87,000 tons, the Russians came in at around 77,000 tons, and the Germans held 27,597 tons. Japanese figures are vague and largely unavailable after the war, but numbers indicate their stockpile was also significant. As an available example, 839,956 gas shells were shipped out of Japan between 1937 and 1941. Approximately 571,940 of these shells were sent to China and the remaining 268,010 shells sent to south east

Asia. Larger quantities are believed to have been manufactured and shipped between 1942 and 1943. Japan’s use of poison gas in China and their stockpiles have been a very sensitive issue since the war.3 The Russell Islands became a massive US ammunition and supply base. All the necessary weapons of war were stored there for the duration of the war and dispensed as needed. Poison gas was one weapon stored at this supply base. The presence of poison gas in any military arsenal was a closely guarded secret as it contravened existing legal conventions of the day. Despite being illegal, all of the major powers had stockpiles and were prepared to use them in retaliation if chemical weapons were used against their own military forces. Some countries

It is suspected that this munition contains hazardous gas.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Aliquam lobortis venenatis nulla. Duis vulputate vel dolor a aliquet. Pellen-

also drew up battle plans for pre-emptive strikes if needed. The stockpiles in the Russell Islands were

never used and became another object for disposal at the end of the war. They were to be dumped into the sea along with the rest of the munitions. As with other munitions, many were dumped into shallow waters simply to make disposal easier. As the method of disposal is incomplete and the munitions are still accessible, the danger of innocent civilian interactions remains high. The obvious attraction is to salvage the brass driving bands from artillery shells and sell this brass to a metal recycler. Another use is to recycle the explosives in general munitions for fish bombing (dynamite fishing). Munitions dumped in the sea could often be recovered by swimmers making shallow dives for these purposes. A diver could not tell the difference between a 155mm high explosive artillery shell, a phosphorous round or mustard gas 26


round. Removing the driving band does not disturb the contents, but cutting a munition to harvest the explosive inside does. One can only speculate on the result of cutting into phosphorous or mustard gas shells, but most likely the result would be fatal. General ammunition and chemical rounds have been found on land on the Russell Islands. These appear to be simply abandoned and missed as part of the clean-up operation that was undertaken in 1946. The motivation to leave the Pacific and return home would have contributed to the task of the clean up being conducted too quickly and left incomplete. Poison gas shells have been found and destroyed a number of times since WWII. In 2000, US bomb disposal experts removed and disposed of 115 WWII-era mustard gas shells. These shells were first discovered in 1987 and some were destroyed with explosives by a munition disposal team who were unaware of

their toxic content. In 2006, a US Marine chemical team arrived in the Solomon Islands and destroyed six munitions that are believed to have contained mustard gas. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSIPF) EOD team has also destroyed a number of munitions also believed to be poison gas. Constable Polykeana of the RSIPF from New Georgia Island was trained in EOD techniques in the 1990s. “We dealt with many things back then, and in big quantities too. We would gather the ammunition and then destroy it with explosives. One time the detonation was not normal and we had a cloud go over us. All involved had breathing and chest problems for at least the next 10 years. I think we must have had mustard gas in that demolition.� No matter the legal status of chemical weapons, the simple fact is that some munitions found on the Russell Islands have been chemical. All kinds of munitions have been disposed of in a careless manner and a dangerous legacy exists today.

Solomon Islanders are at risk off posion gas, which exists in unknown quantities.



Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. -A munition LoremliesIpsum hidden behind a fallen tree.

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The jungle takes hold By 1947, much of the US military machine had packed up and returned to the USA. The maelstrom that was WWII in the Pacific was over, and local villagers would now try to get back to the way of life enjoyed before the war. Large sums of money were invested in Japan and Germany to rebuild and create a world that would avoid future conflicts. This was good news for the protagonists, and helped bolster the vibrant economic nations that Japan and Germany are today. But what of the rest of the world’s battlefields, and what of the Pacific? Munition stockpiles were dumped in the sea, abandoned, buried or burned when the armies left. Many scarred lands were quickly overtaken by the jungle and former battle areas were dissolved into the

environment. The level of danger did not change; it just could not be seen. As time wore on and the jungle became thicker, generations also came and went. As generations passed, those who had remembered the war passed away and their children had only a partial memory of the war. Now 70 years on, this memory is even fainter and fading rapidly. Memories might fade but the munitions are still present, just simply harder to see. Some munitions will have decayed to a point where they are no longer dangerous, while others might have degraded into a more dangerous condition. For example, if a high explosive round rusts away, the explosive components are exposed to the elements and eventually

will wash away. If the decaying munition is not interfered with, the danger to individual or communal safety will be minimal. However, if a phosphorous munition decays the same way, combustion will occur when the shell casing degenerates enough to expose the raw phosphorous and phosphorous combusts when exposed to air. Poison gas shells have similar issues: once the shell decays enough to leak, the gas leaches into the environment. The relative danger is hinged on proximity to humans and animals, and speed of the leak. A shell containing gas that is cut open or violently ruptured would have catastrophic results.



Land ownership, bomb ownership Land ownership is a very contentious issue in the Solomon Islands, and often the cause of dispute. Traditional tribal owners, ethnic groups, new owners who have purchased land and corporate investors all contribute to the complexity of land ownership.

lawless and were divided between family groups, tribal groups and ethnic divisions. The UK took the Solomon Islands as a ‘Protectorate’ in 1893 and expanded their rule between 1898 and 1900. This rule brought a form of governance and economic exploitation up until WWII.

The Solomon Islands were first seen by the Spanish in 1568. As headhunting and cannibalism were common, they were largely ignored until the 19th century when missionaries attempted to Christianise the islands. Little progress was made due to local tensions over the activities of ‘Blackbirders’, those that kidnapped or coerced locals to Australian plantations as labourers.

From the start of the 20th century missionaries had success in Christianising the population and coconut plantations were established. Social and economic progress was slow and the local population gained little from the British rule. In some cases, land was sold to international businesses and entrepreneurs who could see economic opportunities in the islands. An example is Lever Brothers, who gained over 400,000 hectares of land for coconut and copra production. Many ask who

The islands were considered largely



had the right to sell or lease this land in the first place, and ownership arguments have flourished for many years. Land ownership is at the very core of what it is to be a Solomon Islander and all lands are ‘owned’ by someone. Ownership also extends to anything found on the land and interaction with objects needs to be negotiated with the owner. Establishing who the official or legal owner is can be a difficult task and in some cases, indefinable. Ownership issues have caused trouble in many areas that are suspected to be affected by ERW. An example is a local land owner on what was ‘Red Beach’, the beach the US first landed on in 1942. The owner has assembled as many war relics as possible


The perception that these dangerous relics could be of some value hinders the immediate reporting of discovered munitions to the authorities.

and attempts to run the collection as a museum. Anyone entering his land is challenged for an admission fee. In the area near Hill 31, overlooking Honiara, a similar situation exists. A local man has collected many artefacts and tries to charge a fee to see them. When SafeGround visited he immediately asked for $200 Solomon Islander Dollars (approximately $35 Australian Dollars) to see his collection.

WWII munitions are often used as door stops or, as shown above, as anchors for boats.

When the nature of the research was explained, he offered to show bombs for

the same price. This offer was refused and the safety of the local farmers and children was then left as his responsibility. The demand for $200 was ultimately dropped and the SafeGround researcher was escorted to the US Marine defensive positions around the crown on the hill. Sixty-nine live mortars were found in a very small area, removed to the Hell’s Point Demolition Range and destroyed. The perception that these dangerous relics could be of some value hinders the immediate reporting of discovered munitions to the authorities. IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND War Remnants


Economic impacts

Bombs hindering development, safety and tourism The presence of ERW in any location creates a danger that is compounded due to land use and population density. Simply put, the chance of impact on economic growth and safety rises as the frequency or intensity of land use rises. In conjunction, the effect on poverty and security rises as more people live on ERW-contaminated land. The effects of ERW contamination can be seen in many ways. Impacts on farming are key, particularly in agricultural economies like the Solomon Islands. If soil is tilled and crops cultivated, a farmer is at risk of disturbing long-forgotten munitions. Farmers may also accidentally detonate munitions when burning off stubble after harvest to prepare the soil for the next crop. Farmers are often hindered from utilising 32


the full potential of their land for fear of losing their life or limbs. As a result, many farmers across the Solomon Islands ‘farm lightly’ to avoid disturbing munitions. Chris Jamakana at Barkek is one of those affected by the necessity to farm lightly. “I do not cultivate the land to the depth I should for fear of hitting bombs. This limits the kind of crops I can grow and the return I can get from my land. I also have trouble improving my land with organics and manure as this requires me to dig it in aggressively, and this I am scared to do. I feel I could get far more from my land if I could work it properly but with bombs here I can not. My main crop is cassava. It has shallow roots and does not need too much digging to put a crop in. The money earned from this is medium to low. There

are many other crops I could grow with a greater return but these would require greater working of my land. When I have harvested my crop I burn my field to add nutrients to the soil and prepare it for the next crop. This I am very frightened of. When I light the fires I run away and do not come back until they have burned themselves out. Sometimes these fires get out of control as I am not there to tend them.” Any digging in areas where fighting occurred risks encountering old munitions. Nik West is an Australian technical consultant working with the Solomon Islands Electricity Authority. “Much of our work is laying power lines for the national electricity grid. We are always

digging the earth to erect power poles and trenches to lay cables. We often unearth old bombs both large and small in this work. This area surrounding Honiara was hit by everything during the war. Planes dropped bombs, the Navy bombarded the area and soldiers fought up and down these ridges. The end result is there is a very large degree of ERW in this land. We are always using detectors, but despite this last week one of my staff hit a large bomb with a backhoe and unearthed it. The bomb did not explode but it terrified

Chris Jamakana cannot work his farm to capacity because of the presence of ERW.

the backhoe operator and he ran away home and is scared to come back to work. This has happened many times to different employees. It’s the same situation for the telecommunications company, the water company and road builders. They have to dig to do their job and they hit bombs when they do. It scares all of us. We are now developing the area behind Honiara near the Japanese War memorial. This area saw very heavy fighting and there are many old bombs. A capital city like Honiara will naturally develop and press out into the surrounding countryside. Unearthing old bombs then becomes unavoidable. When we do find a bomb we call the police and members of the police EOD team attend and remove what we find. This is done on a case by case basis. Work stops when we find something and lots of time and money is lost while we wait for the munition to be dealt with.� Tourism is one of the few foreign money earners in the Solomon Islands. Scuba diving has been very popular because of

The Solomon Islands has huge potential as a tourism destination, but the ERW threat needs to be resolved before this can happen.

the natural beauty, but an interest in the WWII history is also growing. With many shipwrecks in the waters off the Solomon Islands, the diving opportunities are varied and fascinating. While much of the tourism has focused on the water edge and into the ocean, an untapped resource lies in the pristine wilderness in many parts of the islands. Jungle trails into the remote interior of the islands could be developed as a mix of ecotourism and historical tourism. Exploring such historical sites within the natural IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND War Remnants



I do not cultivate the land to the depth I should for fear of hitting bombs. I feel I could get far more from my land if I could work it properly but with bombs here I can not. - Chris Jamakana

beauty of the tropical jungles could create a variety of sources of foreign income for the local people and businesses. One example where this has already been successful in the Pacific is the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea, which has become a very popular wilderness trek for adventure tourists with a keen interest in WWII. This growth in tourism has created good employment opportunities for local villages and support services. The mountains surrounding Honiara hold many tracks that were used during 34


the war. Some local business people are interested in developing some of these to become overnight treks that follow the footsteps of WWII. War relics are scattered through these jungles, ranging from medium artillery pieces to abandoned camps, graves and assorted equipment. Amongst them are caches of abandoned munitions. To develop a tourism business with a historical focus is a feasible idea, but the risk of UXO must also be weighed to determine if such plans could be viable.

Bombs littering the beaches and waterways of the Solomon Islands poses a significant threat to tourism activities.



Dynamite fishing The presence and availability of militarygrade explosives poses many security problems and economic dilemmas. On one hand, the toxins leaching into the environment contaminate land, sea and the food chain. On the other, some fishermen seek old bombs to harvest explosives and recycle them to be used for fishing. WWII munitions are readily available: munitions can be found in the jungles and the former front lines by those willing to search for them. They dig the soil and use cheap imported metal detectors to locate old munitions, ignoring smaller munitions in favour of ordnance of above 75mm. When munitions have been excavated and removed from the ground, they are cut in half with a hacksaw to expose the



explosive within. As well as the obvious danger of opening a fragile weapon with a small saw, the bomb makersdo not know if they are cutting into a munition full of high explosive, or if they’ll find white phosphorous or poison gas. In the latter case, they risk lethal damage. Once the contents are exposed, the explosive is removed and cased in a 300ml plastic drink bottle. Once a homemade fuse is fitted the bomb is ready for use. Some fishermen make their own bombs while others purchase them from dedicated bomb makers. The fishermen go searching for schools of fish, light the fuse and toss it into the water. Homemade fuses vary in their reliability and duration, and premature detonations do occur, to devastating affect. A few seconds after

the fuse is lit, the bomb explodes under the water and a violent shock wave is transmitted in the surrounding area. All marine life in the immediate vicinity is killed, and those further away are stunned. The fishermen dive into the water to retrieve as many fish as they can. One bombing can produce upwards of $2,000 Solomon Island dollars (approximately $350 Australian dollars) in fish, and will often kill more than the fisherman can harvest. Many fish are not retrieved by the fishermen and instead drift away on the currents or into deeper water. The killed fish are of low quality as their organs have been ruptured and locals claim their flesh is soft and pulverised. The market for this fish is normally battered fish or cheap fish


The unfortunate reality is that dynamite fishing injuries are less common than death.

for local villagers. A fish procured this way is easily identifiable as they have burst or bulging eyes, burst swim bladders, their flesh is soft and clammy, excessive blood is coming from the gills and organs are forced out through the anus. As well as devastating fish stocks, fish bombing also irreparably destroys the reef. Coral reefs are complicated and fragile

eco-systems and take many centuries to develop. One detonation reduces it to rubble and removes the habitat for marine life. Wherever fish bombers have been, a dead reef is left in their wake. This issue has polarised communities in the Solomon Islands. While the practice is common, the majority of village fishermen are opposed to fish bombing as they appreciate that one detonation permanently removes their ability to continue fishing in that area. The tourist scuba diving industry is another area that relies on pristine reefs and waters for income. As a result of fish bombing, an area of magnificent marine environment can become dead waste in an instant. Accidents do occur when a bomb misfires or detonates too early. The most common injuries are loss of appendages, blinding and abdominal damage. The unfortunate reality is that injuries are less common

than death, as 300ml of high explosive detonating right next to a person is usually at a cost of a life. Dr. Rooney at the Referral Hospital in Honiara reports that the hospital sees five or six patients on average each year who are brought in with injuries sustained from fish bombing. The patient’s family usually has a cover story about what happened, but injuries of this nature are unmistakable. Due to the rudimentary facilities in Honiara, it’s likely that an injured person will die, although some do survive. Distance is also a factor, as injured people are sometimes forced to travel great distances by boat to get to a doctor. When a person is killed fish bombing, the death is not reported in any database. The person is simply buried and the cause of death forgotten. Evidence from interviews with fish bombers and villagers points to around 20 deaths per year due to this



Below: a munition after the explosive components have been harvested.



practice. In 2010 RSIPF estimated an average of 15 Solomon Islanders would lose their lives to ERW.3 Deaths of this nature are not reported to police, and the police do not have enough range to know what is happening in each community.

Michael (left) and Frank (right) both lost arms in dynamite fishing accidents. Michael was injured when a homemade fuse burned too fast, detonating the bomb early. Once he was released from hospital he turned away from fishing and repairs boats instead with his son. He also works through the local church and with the Pastor going to communities and villages to talk about how bad fish bombing is and has become a strong community role model. When Frank had his accident and lost his arm he was not charged by the police. They felt he had suffered enough and learned his lesson. They were wrong - Frank continued fishing with explosives until his neighbors reported him to the police. They were worried for his safety, the damage he was doing to their reefs and their livelihood as they are fishermen too. He was arrested and charged and served 18 months in prison. He has learned his lesson now and fishes with a spear instead.



The Hell’s Point EOD team prepare small munitions for destruction.

Chapter 3


What is being done to resolve the ERW problem

Hell’s Point

RSIPF and Golden West Humanitarian Foundation Hell’s Point is a unique location. It is an area a few hundred metres from the eastern end of Honiara’s main airport runway at Henderson Field. Once the fighting around Henderson Field had moved to the west and onto other islands in early 1943, Hell’s Point became a large ammunition supply depot. It is estimated that the size of the supply depot was between 200,000 and 300,000 tonnes of munitions of varied sizes and calibres. A wildfire burned into the depot in November 1943 wreaking havoc as masses of munitions began to detonate in the fire. The fire was too dangerous to fight amongst exploding munitions so the area was isolated and allowed to burn itself out over the course of a few days. The depot was blown over an area in excess of 120 sq 42


hectares as a result of the fire. What did not detonate in the fire is now embedded in the jungle in varying stages of sensitivity. The area was abandoned for the remainder of the war as it was too dangerous and time consuming to clear. This has not only created a very dangerous environment but also a unique opportunity for the training of EOD professionals. In conjunction with the Australian Federal Police, the RSIPF began using Hell’s Point as an EOD training facility and demolition range in the 1990s, primarily working with munitions found in the Honiara area. As the area of Hell’s Point is saturated with ERW, it is an ideal environment to train personnel with the skills needed to safely detect and destroy unexploded munitions. This relationship was bolstered in 2006 as

a result of the national security situation. At the time this program was created, the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) was disarming the population and trying to secure anything that could pose a threat to law and order; as such, securing the area of

Abandoned ordnance at Hell’s Point.

Hell’s Point was a priority. In May 2011, Golden West Humanitarian Foundation (GWHF) took over the Hell’s

Point facility and has continued to train the RSIPF EOD team. They are trained to International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) and are considered international experts in the field of WWII ordnance. This relationship is funded by a variety of donors, primarily the governments of the US and Australia.

Above: Munitions are detonated at Hell’s Point. Below: Members of the RSIPF undergo EOD training.

Part of the role of this team is research and development of new technologies and techniques. GWHF recognises that explosive demolition of all munitions found is cost-intensive and contributes a considerable amount of damage to the environment. A new methodology has been developed, whereby all munitions that are brought to the Hell’s Point facility are X-rayed to determine their contents. This method identifies and separates high explosive and phosphorous munitions. The high explosive munitions are then cut

in half using a remote controlled band saw, and the opened munitions burned instead of destroyed by explosive demolition. This is a cheap way of disposing of the munitions and reduces the number of explosive demolitions needed. The phosphorous munitions and small calibre rounds are still destroyed with explosives.

Hell’s Point is an ideal environment to train personnel with the skills needed to safely detect and destroy unexploded munitions.





When munitions are found they are transported to the Hell’s Point facility, if safe to do so. There, GWHF and the RSIPF x-ray each munition to determine what kind of munition it is. If safe, the weapon is cut in half with a remote-controlled cutter, and then burned to destroy the explsoive components. The advantage of this method is that not every munition is detonated, so the environmental impact is negligible. It is also far cheaper as explosives do not need to be purchased for demolition. Left: A RSIPF member remotely monitors a munition as it is being cut in half. Below and right: The machine used to saw explsoive remnants in half.



Local capacity and international assistance The expertise of the RSIPF EOD team and the training facility at Hell’s Point are exceptional assets both to the Solomon Islands and the Pacific region, and the team routinely demonstrates its capacity for excellence. The local expertise now exists as does the potential to train more. The limiting factor for the complete clearance of the Solomon Islands is money and mandate. Operation Render Safe was the first enduring clearance operation. The operation is a joint regional venture supported by the military forces of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, the United Kingdom and the USA. Members of the RSIPF EOD team undertook key roles due to their knowledge, training and expertise. In 46


2013, the operation destroyed or made safe about 10,000 explosive items in the Solomon Islands. International monetary donations for mine action have been sporadic. In 2011 the US provided US$400 000 to GWHF to train the RSIPF EOD team, and increased their financial support to $556 666 in 2012. By the same year, Japan had contributed some US$64,000. Australia has also made significant, although sporadic, financial contributions to mine action in the Pacific. The present mandate of GWHF is as a training, research and development organisation. The EOD team members respond to reports from the general public but have neither the budget nor mandate to deploy for a full clearance of the

Solomon Islands. GWHF and the RSIPF have turned the Hell’s Point location into a training centre with a high level of ERW saturation at their fingertips. One only has to travel a few hundred metres to be amongst ERW. The mandate and funding is well covered for training and research but falls short when it comes to full national survey and clearance. Reports of ERW from other islands and provinces are difficult to respond to due to long distances, modes of transport available and cost. An EOD team must travel with explosives which makes it impossible to fly, so travel by sea is the only option. This necessitates having a vessel which can handle open water conditions and has a shallow enough draft so that landing on remote beaches is possible.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Members of the Hell’s Point EOD team clear munitions on the hills outside Honiara.

- Lorem Ipsum

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Steps towards progress Survey and standards The Solomon Islands is far behind many countries suffering from a legacy of ERW. With the creation of the MBT, a greater degree of effort was put into the identification, location and clearance of landmines and other ERW. National and international standards have been developed and adopted by most affected countries, an act that is usually an important criterion for donors. The adoption of these standards ensures that a predictable and reliable quality of clearance will be undertaken and maintained, as will the safety procedures they advise. With standards in place, the safety of the clearance operators will be ensured and the quality of the clearance operation guaranteed. 48


These standards have developed since the beginning of civilian demining and have been fine-tuned over the past 20 years. IMAS is key in the creation and development of standards that ensure a predictable outcome from clearance operations. As any conflict draws to a close an unknown area of ‘dangerous’ or ‘perceived dangerous’ territory exists. Before any effective clearance efforts can be undertaken, the extent of this dangerous territory needs to be defined. Once an area is defined, funding can be provided and a physical demining effort can be undertaken, targeted to the areas with the greatest need, which is usually defined by population pressures. Following this process gives donors the confidence that

their money is being spent in a way that will see the biggest positive impact. A non-technical survey is an important part of this process. A survey of this kind

will focus on collecting and analysing data about the presence, type and distribution of the contamination, with the purpose of defining where ERW is present and to support land release prioritisation. The evidence-based research usually consists of a national effort to analyse historical records, deploy field researchers across the suspected land to interview local people, and gain a deeper understanding as to the scale of the ERW problem. This sometimes results in cancelling, reducing or clearing land. The gathered information is then charted into detailed mapping data and the end result becomes an overall

view of the country’s problem. Once this national view has been created, clearance teams can be deployed in a targeted and effective manner, also following standard operating procedures applied within the local context, to ensure a quality job is done in a safe manner. Little has been done in the past seventy years to address the legacy of WWII ERW in the Solomon Islands in a systematic way, or to identify the extent of the ERW problem. Some idea of the scope and scale can be gleaned from old battle data and maps, but until an area is physically checked, the size and limits of the problem will be unknown. A non-technical survey would be a perfect beginning to addressing the ERW issues that the Solomon Islands face. Once such a survey is complete, clearance professionals will be able to target their human, physical and financial assets to the affected communities and end the story of ERW in the Solomon Islands.

Generations of Solomon Islanders have lived - and will continue to live - under threat of ERW.



Farmers are one of the most at-risk groups, often forced to work contaminated land to make a living.

International treaties Thirty years ago it was rare for countries to care about the leftover ERW legacy of wars. The treaty that banned antipersonnel landmines in 1997 changed this by helping to bring the world together to examine the legacy of landmines.This in turn developed an awareness of the need to ban indiscriminate cluster bombs. The international consciousness has since expanded to look at general ERW. International Humanitarian Law places 50


legal limits on combatants; they are prohibited from using weapons that do not discriminate between civilians and combatants, or those that inflict suffering greater than what is required to successfully remove an opposing combatant from the conflict. The use of weapons which cause widespread, longterm and severe damage to the natural environment is also prohibited. Over the years, specific treaties have been created which prohibit or restrict the use of certain weapons, such as biological weapons, chemical weapons, blinding laser or incendiary devices or ammunition that explodes or flattens upon impact within the human body (colloquially known as dum-dum bullets). The basic principles found in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols were central to the worldwide campaigns to ban anti-personnel mines and prohibit the use of inaccurate and unreliable cluster munitions. The former campaign resulted in the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition

of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Ottawa Convention, or Mine Ban Treaty). The latter culminated in 2008 in the Convention on Cluster Munitions (the Oslo Convention) opening for signature in 2008 and coming into force on 1 August 2010. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) was the driving force behind the Ottawa Convention and was awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its work. Now the cry of the ICBL, the United

Many different kinds of munitions lie scattered across the Solomon Islands.

Nations and the international community is “More than Mines”. This is to focus the world’s attention on all the dangers left over from previous wars, in whatever varying forms they may take. Ten years ago, the United Nations General Assembly decided that 4 April of each year should be observed as the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. The slogan for the 2015 commemorative day was “More than Mines”, serving to remind people of the many other kinds of explosive hazards that pose a danger to civilians living in conflict and post-conflict settings: unexploded bombs, grenades, unsecured weapons and ammunition, as well as improvised explosive devices that kill, injure and block access to health care, education and development.

A young girl in the Solomon Islands, who lives in an area contaminated with WWII ERW.

The network of states and mine action organisations has proven to be very important for countries in combatting ERW. Affected states can seek advice from technical experts and from countries and organisations with experience of effective IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND Resolutions


mine action. States Parties that are not contaminated with ERW are obliged to assist with mine clearance, allowing affected states to seek and obtain financial support to clear their contaminated land. The intersessional meetings and conferences provide an important meeting place for all stakeholders. The Solomon Islands has been a member of the MBT since 1999. However the Solomon Islands, along with other Pacific states, was not an active participant in the treaty process meetings. This may be due to limited human and financial resources making it difficult to attend conferences in Europe or elsewhere far from the Pacific. In May 2002 a representative of the Solomon Islands participated in MBT intersessional Standing Committee meeting for the first time. This was followed by attendance at another intersessional meeting in 2004, and the submission of its initial transparency



measures report on 11 February 2004. There appears to be no legacy of landmines in the Solomon Islands. The Solomon Islands has not yet acceded to the CCM, has never participated in the Oslo Process and has never made a public statement on the issue.

Monitoring The Monitor is a program providing systematic research, monitoring and assessment of responses to landmines, cluster munitions and other ERW for the ICBL and the Cluster Munition Coalition. The Monitor only briefly to the Solomon Islands, and the scope of the ERW problem is barely touched. In 2002 the ERW problem was reported as being present on Guadalcanal, and in 2003 there was also mention of contaminated areas beyond. In 2004, it was recognised that the ERW problem is, “significantly more complicated than in other parts of


The Solomon Islands has not yet acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions, has never participated in the Oslo Process and has never made a public statement on the issue.

The lack of in-depth understanding of the scope and impact of ERW may have caused donor countries to direct their mine action support to other contaminated areas.

the Pacific.” There is no mention of the Solomon Islands in the Landmine Monitor between 2004 and 2011. The first brief mention of the Solomon Islands in the new Cluster Munition Monitor was in 2010, stating that “The Solomon Islands is party to the Mine Ban Treaty. It has not joined the Convention on Conventional Weapons. The Solomon Islands is not believed to have ever used, produced, transferred, or stockpiled cluster munitions.”

Small munitions are detonated at Hell’s Point.

In most recent country report on the Solomon Islands, released in 2014, states:

“The Solomon Islands is contaminated by UXO from World War II.”4 No further information on the type, amount or location of contamination is given. The lack of mention and in-depth understanding of the scope and impact of ERW contamination may have caused donor countries to direct their mine action support to other ERW contaminated areas. As a result, the Solomon Islands have received minimal assistance for ERW survey and clearance, with sporadic rather than systematic long-term clearance taking place. IN SEARCH OF SAFE GROUND Resolutions


A group of young girls in the Russell Islands.

Chapter 4


Recommended steps towards making the Solomon Islands ERW-free

1) An in-depth study into the practice of Dynamite Fishing in the Solomon Islands. This study has shown that dynamite fishing using explosives from WWII ordnance is one of the main reasons for UXO injuries and deaths in the Solomon Islands. This practice also causes serious destruction to one of the Solomon Island’s key resources: the reefs and the marine environment. Further research into how and to what extent this trade is conducted is important in order to address the situation. The problem is more widespread than previously thought, and as such further research is needed to determine the scope and frequency of the practice.

It is also important to identify and better understand local, regional and national attitudes and reactions towards such practices. The RSIPF needs concrete evidence of the practice in order to be able to act efficiently to curb it. Once a better understanding of the dynamite fishing practice is achieved it will be possible to develop appropriate risk education and identify other key steps and actions aiming at reducing or stopping this practice.

A dynamite fishing accident left this man without one of his arms.



2) An in-depth study into the environmental impact of chemical ordnance and poison gas in the Solomon Islands There is still little known of the environmental impact from the chemicals and toxins that are part of the explosive ordnance left behind from WWII. After being left for more than 70 years on land or in the waters of the Solomon Islands, these devices are now corroding and leaking their toxins into the environment. The majority of communities in the Solomon Islands rely on subsistence farming and fishing for their food source. It is therefore important to find out if and how these

chemicals and toxins affect the people and their communities. We recommend an in-depth study of this. SafeGround researchers were also informed by credible sources that there have been several incidents where poison gas munitions have exploded either in bush fires or as part of explosive ordinance disposal. There are mentions of several heath issues related to this. It would be beneficial to conduct research into this.

On the Russell Islands, the local villagers believe their land is poisoned and point to an unusually high rate of baldness, birth defects and to blistering sores that appear. The locals believe these sores may be caused by Mustard Gas residue that has leaked from old munitions.



3) Effective use of resources This research highlights the impact of WWII ERW in the Solomon Islands, but also recognises the lack of international support provided to Solomon Islands since the war ended. SafeGround recommends to donors that they ensure the Solomon Islands receives greater access to international funds to address the problems caused by ERW. The International Community should also continue to strongly encourage the Solomon Islands to become a State party to the CCM.

RSIPF EOD team members clearing ordnance near Honiara.



4) Improve incident recording and mine action communications At the moment there is no systematic recording of ERW related incidents in the Solomon Islands. Accident statistics play a significant part in determining donor allocation of funding and in increasing demining resources in Solomon Islands. A reliable incident recording system should be implemented and utilised so the continuing impact of ERW can be comprehensively tracked. It is equally as important for mine action workers and community members to make

the details of the location and clearance or ERW publicly available so those impacted are aware of how circumstances have changed. Examples of Solomon Islanders being unaware whether bombs have been removed or hidden are common, and this can lead to injuries when individuals use the contaminated land. An example of this is if a farmer is unaware that a bomb in his field has been covered with earth or removed, which leaves him unaware of potential dangers as he uses his land.

A GPS device used to mark the location of ERW.



5) Create a National Standard for Mine Action There is a strong need for the creation of a national standard to guide the clearance of the Solomon Islands. This will create the base framework for the methodology and quality assurance needed to commence clearance in an effective and systematic way. It is the first essential step in moving to an ERW-free Solomon Islands. International cooperation is needed to develop a set of standards, not just for the Solomon Islands but also for the other affected Pacific nations. Key partners should include, but not be limited to, the relevant governments of each Pacific Nation, PIFS, international donor nations and the international NGO community. Together, methodologies can be created, funding sought and work commenced to close the final chapter of WWII, the effects of which still linger 70 years after the end of the war. 60


A corroding bomb is measured to assist with identification and recording.

Top: Notes are made about a discovered bomb. Bottom: A field manual designed to assist with identification.

RSIPF EOD team notes detailing information on possible locations of ERW, provided by residents who have contacted them to ask for assistance with clearance.



WWII remnants litter the land and oceans of the Solomon Islands.

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Afterword In Search of Safe Ground: Explosive Remnants of World War II in the Solomon Islands was written to be an agent of change. The research reported here has shown conclusively that the ERW problem challenging this small island nation is significant and ongoing, and severely impacts the lives and livelihoods of people and communities around the country. Yet, what we know about ERW in the Pacific is still only the tip of the iceberg. Other island nations are contaminated to greater or lesser degrees, and face similar problems of environmental destruction,

human injury and death, obstruction to development and the continuation of the poverty cycle. The key issue is simply that 64


the extent of the problem is unknown, as is the full scope of the many and varied ways in which ERW affects island life 70 years after the end of WWII. SafeGround’s research focuses the spotlight directly on the Pacific, a hitherto under-resourced region. In the years since the adoption of the MBT and the CCM, the international community has, time and time again, demonstrated that it has the political will to clear ERW and reclaim contaminated land. This book is intended to begin conversations amongst that community, to engage regional and international actors and to finally begin the process of healing wounds in Pacific land, bodies and psyche.

The eradication of WWII ERW in the Solomon Islands, and across other Pacific nations, is possible, if there is the will, the money and the mandate. Everyone deserves a safe future.

A young girl in the Solomon Islands.

References Carr, RS, and M Nipper. 2015. ‘Assessment Of Environmental Effects Of Ordnance Compounds And Their Transformation Products In Coastal Systems’. Ph.D. Texas A&M University. Print.


Tsuneishi, K. 2003. ‘Disposing Of Japan’s World War II Poison Gas In China’. The AsiaPacific Journal: n. pag. Print. 2

Harris, R, and J Paxman. 2002. A Higher Form Of Killing. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks. Print.


Australian Department of Defence. 2010. Navy Clearance Divers Mentor Royal Solomon Islands Police In Explosive Ordnance Disposal. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.



The Monitor. n.d. ‘Solomon Islands Monitor’. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

SafeGround acknowledges prior research on WWII ERW conducted by PIFS, detailed in their 2011 publication Study on WWII Unexploded Ordnance. Abandoned ERW with the explosive component burned away.



As the Second World War raged across the Pacific Theatre, massive amounts of weaponry arrived in Pacific Island nations. Islanders were engulfed in a savage war not of their making and many continue to live with a deadly aftermath 70 years later. In Search of Safe Ground examines this legacy, blending history and modern day island life to present a picture of the devastating damage still being caused by abandoned World War II munitions in the Solomon Islands. It uses visual imagery, interviews and first hand observation to highlight the problem of World War II unexploded ordnance, and the very real way in which it continues to impact on the lives of Solomon Islanders.

“We are scared to use this land but we must to make a living. I work up here cutting trees for the forestry industry and we often find munitions or are told of stockpiles in the jungle. We are scared every time we fell a tree as to what might happen. I see these bombs and want to stay well away from them.” - Maney Jezerih talks about working in the forests surrounding Honiara on Guadalcanal.

“I am afraid of the bombs and that they might hurt my children, and I tell them again and again to keep away from them. I hope they do as I tell!” - Florence Sou is afraid of the abandoned munitions along the coast of Lever Point. “I do not cultivate the land to the depth I should for fear of hitting bombs. This limits the kind of crops I can grow and the return I can get from my land. I feel I could get far more from my land if I could work it properly but with bombs here I can not.” - Chris Jamakana talks about the dangers of farming where there may still be WWII bombs.

ISBN 978-0-9872996-1-1

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In Search of Safe Ground: Explosive Remnants of WWII in the Solomon Islands  

As the Second World War raged across the Pacific Theatre, massive amounts of weaponry arrived in Pacific Island nations. Islanders were engu...

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