The Australian Defence Cooperation Program (DCP) has completed its final financial commitment to the Australian/ Solomon Islands bilateral support to the RSIPF Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Program at Hell's Point.The DCP has invested over SBD 3.5m in the Australian Financial Year (ending 30 June 2012) towards this project. To mark the occasion, the Minister for Police, National Security and Correctional Services, Hon David Tome, and the Police Commissioner, Mr John Lansley, were invited to Hell's Point on Wednesday 13 June to view firsthand the new facilities and to officially receive the keys to the recently completed Training Facility.
First, Minister Tome and Commissioner Lansley were invited to participate in one of the day to day duties of an EOD team member - they took part in a Render Safe procedure to reduce the unexploded ordnance (UXO) threat to the local inhabitants. In basic terms this is the destruction of stockpiled UXO munitions and the best way to do this is with more explosives. Minister Tome had the honour of pressing the 'FIRE' button for the demolition and although only a relatively small charge, the low cloud made for an impressive explosion sound.
Once the dust had settled and the all clear sounded, the Minister and Commissioner took the opportunity to see the massive stockpile of UXO stored in the Safe Holding Area. The sight of such a large stockpile of dangerous explosives reinforces the problem the Hell's Point complex and the greater Honiara area has with unexploded ordnance. Any UXO needs to be treated with respect and left to the professionals to handle, and the Minister acknowledged the bravery and skills of the RSIPF EOD team who have to deal with these on a daily basis.
Minister Tome and Commissioner Lansley moved to the new Training Facility and received a brief from Mr Mark Lasley, from the US NGO Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, who is providing the EOD training, on where the Unit has come from in the past 12 months and where it is heading in the future. The partnership between the DCP and the US has seen over US$1m donated to the EOD Project. Warrant Officer Tim Chislett from the Australian High Commission then outlined the next stages of DCP support into the 12/13 financial year which is set to further enhance what the DCP has delivered to the EOD unit to date.
After a quick tour through the training facility and the displayed equipment provided by the DCP and the Golden West Foundation, the Australian Deputy High Commissioner, Dr Dave Peebles, officially handed over the keys to the new training facility to the Hon David Tome. This symbolic ceremony concluded the end of the DCP projects for the financial year. These included all new roads and demolition pits, world class EOD render safe equipment and personal protective equipment and of course the construction of the new Training and Operations Facility.
"After all these years, unexploded ordnance is still a threat to public safety. Australia is working in partnership with Solomon Islands to make Hell's Point safe and secure," said Dr Peebles during the hand-over ceremony.
"This centre is a wonderful example of cooperation between Solomon Islands, Australia and the US.
It shows that Solomon Islands has many friends around the world who want to come and help out.
"The facility and state of the art equipment are part of the Australian Defence Force's defence cooperation program with Solomon Islands. I believe this centre will become an example to the rest of the region in years to come," said Dr Peebles.
Minister Tome responded firstly by saying "my mother, when I was growing up as a young child around this area, told me never to go onto Alligator Creek as it was too dangerous, after all those years, I am finally here". He went on to thank, on behalf of the Solomon Islands Government, the Australian High Commission for the provision of the facilities and equipment to enable the EOD Unit to train in such excellent training environment; Mr Mark Lasley and the US Department of State for the high level of training they are providing; PPF Commander, Paul Osborne for the provision of Advisers, vehicles and other supporting elements of the project and finally to Commissioner Lansley and his Executive and particularly the members of the RSIPF EOD Unit.
A final quote from Minister Tome could be said to say it all, "With the completion of the Classroom facility, I am sure that Hell's Point is ready for more interesting development. As we all know, the Second World War covers a good number of countries in the Pacific and they are faced with issues involving UXOs as we are. I am optimistic that Hell's Point or the Solomon Islands for that matter could become the Regional Centre of EOD Training when properly developed".
Source: Press Release, Australian High Commission, Solomon Islands