- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2013

The U.S. Navy said on Monday that divers are investigating whether they can salvage the four unarmed bombs dumped by U.S. fighter jets into Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park — but in the meantime, not to worry. The ordnance is not a big threat to the environment.

U.S. fighter jet pilots were forced to drop the bombs during a training exercise gone wrong last week. The two AV-8B Harrier jets had launched from the USS Bonhomme Richard during joint exercise with Australia’s military on July 16.

Both pilots subsequently dropped inert practice bombs that were filled with concrete and unarmed laser-guided explosive bombs over the marine park, listed as a World Heritage Site with the United Nations and located off the northeast coast of Australia.

The bombs didn’t explode, but environmentalists went berserk, condemning the act as a horrendous assault on a global natural treasure.

U.S. Navy officials said Monday that officials may retrieve the bombs.

“If the park service and the government agencies of Australia determine that they want those recovered, then we will coordinate with them on that recovery process,” said U.S. 7th Fleet spokesman Lt. David Levy, The Telegraph reported.

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He did not know if the bombs were damaged — or if there would be environmental damage to the seawater if they were left there in the long-term.

But Navy officials said the immediate environmental impact of the bombs on the reef was minimal, The New York Times reported. Officials with The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the government body tasked with overseeing the reef, said similarly in The Telegraph.

The bombs currently pose “low risk to the marine environment,” The Authority said in a statement. “Based on where the ordnance have been dropped in a location that is in water around 164 feet deep, about 19 miles from the nearest reef and 31 miles from the shoreline, the immediate impact on the marine environment is thought to be negligible.”

• Cheryl K. Chumley can be reached at cchumley@washingtontimes.com.

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