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Second World War-era bombs in Vanuatu made safe by Navy divers

Explosive Second World War relics that have lain underwater in Port Vila Harbour for nearly 80 years have been rendered safe by Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN) divers, at the request of the Government of Vanuatu.

26 June, 2024

The five 1000lb bombs - likely disposed of via a ship at the end of the Second World War - were sitting in around 20 metres of water.

Supported by Vanuatu officials, and operating from HMNZS Manawanui, five Maritime Explosive Ordnance Disposal Divers from HMNZS Matataua confirmed the location of the explosive remnants of war (ERW), before using a low order charge to crack the bombs open. 

Chief Petty Officer Diver Jarron Williams led the dive team for the operation, and said that the method they used was the least disruptive in the sensitive maritime conservation area.

“A low order charge to crack the ordnance open is a method that we’ve successfully utilised in other Pacific nations affected by ERW, like Tuvalu, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands. 

A RHIB with personnel on floats on the ocean with HMNZS Manawanui in the background.

Fijian Navy personnel and RNZN personnel prepare to launch the Remote Environmental Monitoring Unit (REMUS) for a survey of the sea bed, with HMNZS Manawanui in the background

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RNZN personnel and members of the Vanuatu Police Maritime Wing work together to launch the REMUS for a sea bed survey

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A 1000lb bomb after it has been cracked open by a low order charge

“Once the bomb is open, it’s flooded with sea water which renders the explosive ineffective.

“Of course there’s no big boom like you might see in the movies, but it’s much safer for the marine life and better for the environment.”

With the task in Vanuatu complete, HMNZS Manawanui continues her Pacific operation and will transit to Tonga, for His Majesty King Tupou VI’s birthday celebrations and the 50th Anniversary of His Majesty’s Armed Forces Navy.