By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia — Two U.S. fighter jets have dropped four unarmed bombs in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park when a training exercise went wrong.
The two AV-8B Harrier jets launched from aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard each jettisoned an inert bomb and an unarmed explosive bomb in the World Heritage-listed marine park off the coast of Queensland state on Tuesday, the U.S. 7th Fleet said in a statement on Saturday.
The four bombs were dropped in more than 164 feet of water away from coral to minimize possible damage to the reef, the statement said. None exploded.
The jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit had intended to drop the ordnances on the Townshend Island bombing range but aborted the mission when controllers reported the area was not clear of hazards.
The pilots conducted the emergency jettison because they were low on fuel and could not land with their bomb load, the navy said.
The emergency happened on the second day of the biennial joint training exercise Talisman Saber, which brings together 28,000 U.S. and Australian military personnel over three week.
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps were working with Australian authorities to investigate the incident, the navy said.
A 7th Fleet spokesman could not be immediately contacted for further comment on Sunday.
Graeme Dunstan, who is among the environmentalists and anti-war activists demonstrating against the joint exercise, said the mishap proved that the U.S. military could not be trusted to protect the environment.
“How can they protect the environment and bomb the reef at the same time? Get real,” Dunstan said from the Queensland coastal town of Yepoon near where war games are taking place.
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest network of coral structures rich in marine life that stretches more than 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) along the Australian northeast coast.