Once the site of heavy Japan-U.S. fighting during the Pacific War, many unexploded bombs can be found scattered at the sea floor surrounding the islands of Palau. As such, hazardous chemicals from the explosives have been leaking into the ocean, which called for a clean-up. The Japan Mine Action Service, a government-authorized nonprofit organization, has taken the task of removing the bombs under the sea.
Composed mostly of retired Self Defense Force troops, the JMAS was founded in 2002. The group has been helpful in disposing bombs in Afghanistan and Cambodia, and Palau is going to be their first underwater project. Director Yoshiyuki Morita said, “The next year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. I am glad that we can help Palau, with which Japan has a close relationship, using our bomb disposal technology.” Around 10,000 were killed in the Battle of Peleliu in Palau between Japan and the US in 1944. They used an estimated 2,800 tons of bombs and explosives during the fighting, with many landing unexploded on both ground and the sea. The impact of unexploded bombs has caused many investors and developers to stay away from the area.
A British NGO, Cleared Ground Demining, has taken the task of removing artillery on the land, leaving the sea untouched. A request from the government of Palau and the Japanese Foreign Ministry prompted JMAS to set up a local office in December 2012, and discussed the project with officials from the islands. Aid provided by the government of Japan will see the removal of explosives from a sunken Japanese cargo ship near Koror Island. Located 30 meters deep in waters with 30 degrees temperature, the JMAS will utilize a special resin for underwater construction on the wreck to cover the 163 depth charges without fuses, so they will not leak chemicals. Using custom-made diving suits and equipment for contaminated water, the group will have members specializing in explosives join the project. The group hopes to finish the disposal in one year. JMAS bomb disposal member Masahiko Maki said, ‘In a diving suit with less air circulation, you could work at most twice a day and 10 days a month. It is hard and challenging.”
[via Asahi Shimbun]