Solomon Islands incident update from Norwegian People’s Aid
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) is cooperating with local police and government in their investigation of the tragic event that occurred in Honiara, Solomon Islands on the 20th September at 6:40 PM local time.
NPA is awaiting preliminary conclusions from the ongoing police investigation of the explosion that caused the tragic death of our two colleagues, Luke Atkinson, citizen of New Zealand and holding dual UK and Ireland citizenship and Trent Lee, Australian citizen.
- Our primary focus for the time being is taking good care of the next of kin of our two deceased colleagues as well as our 19 programme staff in the Solomon Islands, says Director for Mine Action and Disarmament at NPA, Per Håkon Breivik.
NPA would also like to acknowledge the distress the residents of the affected neighbourhood must have experienced, and extend our deepest sympathy.
Since 2019, NPA has been assisting the Ministry of Police, National Security and Correctional Services in Solomon Islands in creating a centralized database of the known and suspected explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination, and in developing an effective nation-wide information collection system. - Our objective in this program is to contribute to a safer Solomon Islands free from explosive remnants from the Second World War, says Breivik.
When dealing with explosive remnants of war, NPA as an organization is required to follow strict national and international standards and procedures. Every Mine Action and Disarmament programme establishes and maintains standard operating procedures (SOP) that are simultaneously bespoke to national standards and context and compliant to mentioned international standards. - We put the safety of our staff as well as that of the communities we serve before any other considerations.
All staff involved in explosive ordnance survey, clearance and disposal operations are recruited in compliance with international requirements related to competence, formal qualifications and relevant necessary experience and specialization. A number of staff dedicate their entire professional careers to this life-saving work, Breivik emphasizes.
NPA acknowledges that the Royal Solomon Island Police Force (RSIPF) has reported that unexploded ordnance has been found at the scene of the explosion. Bringing explosive ordnance to residential areas and the subsequent storage of such items in private residences of NPA staff is not in compliance with the mentioned international standards and NPA’s internal standard operating procedures.
Furthermore, such actions are outside of the scope of the NPA mission on the Solomon Islands, and the existing memorandum of understanding (MoU) between NPA and the Ministry of Police National Security and Correctional Services, which is limited to survey and information management system support. The Royal Solomon Islands Police Force explosive ordnance teams are the only entity authorized to render safe, move and dispose of unexploded ordnance (UXO) found in the country.
NPA’s operations have been suspended while awaiting further information from police and local authorities regarding the accident.
Seventy-five years after the end of WWII, the Solomon Islands are still contaminated with Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) on land and in the sea. The ERW includes unexploded ordnance (UXO) and abandoned explosive ordnance (AXO). Abandoned chemical weapons are also a part of the WWII legacy but the level of such contamination is currently unknown.
The NPA programme was established in 2019 following a request from the Solomon Island Government to assist in their Explosive Remnants of War problem, focusing on mapping of contamination and impact of unexploded ordnance originating from the Second World War.
NPA has also supported a National Standards review committee with the goal of approving and actioning appropriate and practical National Mine Action Standards.
Earlier this year NPA started Non-Technical Survey (NTS) activities in the province of Guadalcanal, together with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team. To date, more than 500 items of explosive ordnance (EO) of various types were successfully located and reported.