U.S. Navy to recover bombs jettisoned in Great Barrier Reef

The U.S. 7th Fleet said Friday it will retrieve and dispose of four bombs unloaded by jets into Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off the coast of Australia during a training mishap, Australia, which angered environmentalists.

In a press statement, the 7th Fleet said it "will take the lead in the safe retrieval and disposal" of the ordinance unloaded July 16 by two U.S. AV-8B Harrier jets into the World Heritage site during what it described as an "emergency situation."

"We are fully committed to redressing any potential adverse environmental impact in a timely manner," it said.

The statement came a day after the 7th Fleet said the Harriers, which were launched from an amphibious assault ship ahead of the start of a U.S.-Australia military training exercise, jettisoned the bombs "for safety reasons" after civilian vessels were detected inside the preapproved drop zone and the jets ran low on fuel.

It said the four pieces, only two of which contained explosives and the others just concrete, were jettisoned "in a deep channel away from the reef to minimize the possibility of reef damage." The two pieces containing explosives were unarmed and did not explode.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's chairman Russell Reichelt said earlier this week that the impact on the environment is thought to be negligible.

"It was well away from any sensitive habitat," he said.

The 7th Fleet noted that the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a multiple-use marine protected area, and defense training is one of the legitimate uses of the park.