US admits fighter jets dropped unarmed bombs on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef

US and Australian authorities have embarked on an investigation

US fighter jets dropped unarmed bombs on the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef last week after a training exercise went wrong, it emerged today, in a revelation that outraged environmentalists.

Two planes were given permission to dump four weapons on the marine park after a mission to drop them on a bombing range on a nearby island had to be aborted.

The incident took place during joint US-Australian exercises over central Queensland last Tuesday.

The US 7th Fleet said in a statement that the bombs were jettisoned in more than 50 metres of water, "in a deep channel away from the reef, to minimise the possibility of reef damage".

But conservationists were furious, with Larissa Waters, a Queensland senator with the Australian Greens party, calling the incident "outrageous". "I mean, have we gone completely mad?" she asked. "Is this how we look after our World Heritage area now? Letting a foreign power drop bombs on it?"

The two AV-8B Harrier jets from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit were supposed to drop the bombs on the Townshend Island range, but air traffic controllers reported "hazards" in the area, and after several unsuccessful attempts the pilots aborted the mission.

The jets - which were launched from the aircraft carrier USS Bonhomme Richard in the Pacific Ocean - jettisoned the weapons because they were low on fuel and could not land with their bomb loads, according to the US Navy statement.

It said there was no danger to shipping or navigation.

The incident happened on the second day of the biennial joint military exercise, named Talisman Sabre, which  involves about 28,000 personnel over three weeks. The bombs each weighed 226 kilos, according to the US TV network NBC.

US and Australian authorities have embarked on an investigation.

The Barrier Reef - the world's largest coral reef, stretching 2,600 kilometres along Australia's east coast and rich in marine life - is already vulnerable thanks to warmer seas, industrial port development and pollution run-off from farms.

The UN body UNESCO has warned Australia that the reef will be listed as threatened unless steps are taken to protect it.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence