Two demining experts, a British and an Australian, died in a World War II bomb blast they were trying to disarm in the Solomon Islands, local officials said on Monday.
According to the AFP news agency, local police said the two men, who worked for the Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) non-governmental organization, stored bombs without permission in a residential area of Honiara, with the explosion on Sunday afternoon.
The Norwegian non-governmental organization (NGO) indicated that Briton Stephen “Luke” Atkinson and Australian Trent Lee were participating in the creation of a database on unexploded ordnance in the archipelago.
The explosion occurred at the NGO office, said local police inspector Clifford Tunuki, adding that, according to the first elements of the investigation, the two men were working on unexploded bombs (UXO) in a residential area, without authorization to do so.
“We don’t know exactly what caused the bomb to explode, but preliminary investigations indicate that they had several UXO’s in the residence and could be working on them,” said the inspector.
According to Tunuki, the police did not know that the ammunition was stored there and, if they had known, they would have insisted that it be taken to a suitable mine clearance center.
Tunuki claimed that the bombs have already been removed from the site and that the area is safe again.
The NPA said its activities in the Solomon Islands were temporarily suspended during the investigation of the “devastating” explosion.
“The investigation must be completed before a conclusion can be drawn as to the cause of the events,” the organization said in a statement.
“It is a tragic accident. So far, we know (only) that there was an explosion with fatal consequences,” the note said.
The archipelago was the scene of strong fighting between the Allied and Japanese forces during World War II. When the conflict ended, large quantities of projectiles, bombs, landmines, and other ammunition were left at the scene.
The NPA is working with the Solomon Islands Police to investigate the scale of the problem and develop a collection program across the country.
The organization guarantees on its internet portal that this military material poses security problems and is harmful to the environment, as it releases chemicals.
The authorities want to remove unexploded ordnance before the 2023 Pacific Games, which are to be held in the Solomon Islands.
Located in the northeast of Australia, the Solomon Islands have about 600,000 inhabitants.