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Environment

US fighters jettison unarmed bombs near Australia's Great Barrier Reef

Two US fighter jets have jettisoned unarmed bombs in Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park during a training emergency. Officials say, however, that they pose no danger to the public or the environment.

The US 7th Fleet said in a statement that two Harrier aircraft dropped the bombs in an "emergency jettison" during a training exercise in the region in the northeastern state of Queensland. None of the bombs exploded

"The selected emergency jettison area was in a deep channel away from the reef to minimize the possibility of reef damage," the statement said. "It is approximately 50 to 60 meters (55 to 66 yards) deep and does not pose a hazard to shipping or navigation."

The navy said the jets had jettisoned the bombs because they were low on fuel and unable to land with their bomb load. Originally, the bombs, two inert and two unarmed explosive bombs, were to be dropped on the Townshend Island bombing range, but the mission was aborted when hazards were reported in the area.

The emergency occurred on the second day of a three-week biennial joint training exercise known as Talisman Saber. The war games involved about 28,000 Australian and US military personnel.

Environmental concerns

A number of environmentalists and anti-war activists have protested in the region against the joint exercise.

One of them, Graeme Dunstan, said the accident proved that the US military could not be trusted to protect the environment.

"How can they protect the environment and bomb the reef at the same time? Get real!" Dunstan said from the Queensland coastal town of Yepoon, some 700 kilometers (435 miles) north of the state capital, Brisbane.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is a World Heritage-listed area that includes the world's largest network of coral structures stretching more than 3,000 kilometers (1,800 miles) along the northeast coast of Australia. It is one of Australia's most popular tourist attractions, but has been increasingly damaged in the past years by storms and the effects of environmental pollution.

tj/rc (AFP, AP)