The end of armed conflict does not always mark the end of civilian casualties. Weapons from the conflict continue to pose a threat to local populations and hamper long-term economic development to this day. The United States is committed to help overcome such threats, from landmines and explosive remnants of war, as well as the destruction of at-risk and unsecured weapons and munitions in over 90 countries around the world. For example, the Department of State’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs’ Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement maintains a Quick Reaction Force that can respond in as little as 48 hours to emergencies across the globe related to these explosive hazards.
One recent example of the Department’s work to clear unexploded ordinance includes the Palau Vice President and Minister of Justice Raynold Oilouch's request for assistance with clearing two World War II-era aerial torpedoes from the harbor, which were found a mere 200 meters from the Palau Pacific Resort, a popular tourist destination. This is not uncommon in Palau. During World War II, the resort property was the location of a Japanese torpedo factory and testing facility. As a major Japanese stronghold during the war, Palau’s islands continue to be contaminated by remnants of thousands of Japanese troops based there, along with derelict military installations and shipwrecks littered with explosives.
Consultations between the Quick Reaction Force and the Palau National Safety Office determined that the Quick Reaction Force would handle the lifting and relocating of the unexploded ordnance. The team stabilized and moved the torpedoes, which were in 45 feet of water. An initial survey of the site identified the ordnance as Type 91 aerial torpedoes, each packed with approximately 700 pounds of high explosives. Each weighed nearly 1,900 pounds, requiring a barge-mounted crane to lift and move.
Over the course of several days, the Quick Reaction Force conducted numerous dives in order to brace and rig the two decaying torpedoes so they could safely lift them from the ocean floor using a crane. This was a complex operation that involved tethering a land-based construction crane to a barge, weighting the barge down with sand to help create a stable platform for the crane, and then towing the crane to the lift site with a tugboat. To complete the project, the team transferred the decaying torpedoes to a grantee, Norwegian Peoples Aid, for disposal at a local demolition range. The site is now clear and is no longer a threat to the community.
From 2009 to 2018, the United States invested more than $3.6 billion in conventional weapons destruction across the globe. The United States is proud to be the world’s single largest financial supporter of humanitarian mine action and we share common cause with those working to address the harmful effects of indiscriminately used landmines on civilians. To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
About the Author: Shawn Hikosaka serves in the Office of Congressional and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the U.S. Department of State.