Hydrographers from HMNZS Matataua survey areas of interest for remnants of war. LR: Matthew Gajzago, Luke Morris and Tom Sullivan. Photo / New Zealand Defense Force

An international naval team has unearthed a piece of history in the waters of Tuvalu, uncovering 22 staggering World War II-era bombs near the isolated Pacific nation.

The Tuvalu government has asked the Australian Defense Force to search for explosive remnants of war.

Dubbed Operation Render Safe, HMNZS Manawanui, HMNZS Matataua and its crew, along with Australian and New Zealand divers, worked together on the project which began earlier this month.

New Zealand military hydrographers began their search in the Funafuti lagoon, to no avail, until the vessel sailed to Nanumea – Tuvalu’s most northwestern atoll – where the 22 bombs were found.

ADF Operations Commander and South West Pacific Major General Scott Winter said the discovery of World War II-era ordnance in the Pacific was a critical step in reducing the indiscriminate impact on the Peaceful.

Winter said working with authorities in Tuvalu and those in New Zealand, the United States and Canada has been a valuable opportunity to support the Pacific, share knowledge and prepare for the safe disposal of remains. explosives of war.

“It also minimizes risk to personnel and vessels traveling through Tuvalu waters,” he said.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, every year civilians are killed or injured by explosive remnants of war.

The successful operation required 47 hours of diving, scanning nearly 2.5 square kilometers of seabed, finding 22 AN-M43 500-pound aerial bombs and four .50 caliber small arms.

They had been thrown to a depth of about 10 to 18 m.

A total of 22 World War II bombs have been found in the waters around the small Pacific island of Tuvalu.  Photo / New Zealand Defense Force
A total of 22 World War II bombs have been found in the waters around the small Pacific island of Tuvalu. Photo / New Zealand Defense Force

During the War of the Pacific in World War II, Tuvalu – formerly known as the Ellice Islands before gaining independence in 1978 – had been at the center of a conflict between the Japanese occupation and Allied forces.

The United States Marine Corps had landed on Funafuti Atoll in 1942 and on Nanumea and Nukufetau in 1943.

Funafuti – now the country’s capital – was used to launch seaborne attacks on Japanese forces 1.5 km away occupying Kiribati, formerly known as the Gilbert Islands.

Hydrographers from HMNZS Matataua survey areas of interest for remnants of war.  LR: Matthew Gajzago, Luke Morris and Tom Sullivan.  Photo / New Zealand Defense Force
Hydrographers from HMNZS Matataua survey areas of interest for remnants of war. LR: Matthew Gajzago, Luke Morris and Tom Sullivan. Photo / New Zealand Defense Force

Among this preparation was the construction of airfields at Nanumea and Nukufetau; as well as the import of military weapons, including bombers and torpedo boats.

Today, abandoned planes, plane wrecks and the remains of bunkers are scattered across the islands and have become a tourist attraction.

Commander John McQueen, of HMNZS Manawanui, said the success of the operation had proven the capability of the multinational teams involved and their ability to work with each other.

“We were able to make a real difference for our neighbors in the Pacific,” he said.

The clearance of explosive remnants of war from Tuvalu is scheduled for 2023.

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