HONOLULU - The Army plans to remove decades-old unexploded munitions from the ocean floor off the coast of Waianae over the next three weeks.
Normally, the military has divers take potentially dangerous munitions out of the ocean, but this time it is testing the use of a remotely controlled robot to do the job.
The target is an area so littered with munitions that it is commonly known as "Ordnance Reef."
This robot, shown at Pearl Harbor, is designed to remove weapons from the ocean floor and will be used off Oahu’s Waianae Coast over the next three weeks.
The weapons range from small-arms munitions to large-caliber projectiles and naval gun ammunition. They're believed to be from the World War II era and were likely dumped in the ocean after the war. The military threw out its old weapons in the sea up to 1970, because it thought doing so was safer than burying them in the ground or burning them.
"Sea disposal was an internationally accepted practice. Not just for munitions, but for municipal waste and everything else. So DOD was doing what everyone else was doing," said J.C. King, the assistant for munitions and chemical matters at the Army. "It was a good idea at the time - maybe not so much now."
The military hopes to take away and destroy about 75 percent of the roughly 2,000 munitions in the area. The rest have become so encrusted with coral that removing them would damage the reef or be too dangerous.
The weapons sit at depths from about 30 to 125 feet below the surface. They start about a quarter-mile offshore, while most are concentrated in an area about a mile offshore. They extend about two miles in the north-south direction off Pokai Bay and the Waianae Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Residents should see two large vessels in the area during the next three weeks. One ship will host the robot that will lift the bombs, projectiles and other items out of the water. The other is a barge that houses containers used to destroy the weapons.
The Army is destroying the weapons at sea so it doesn't have to bring them ashore in Waianae, drive them through town and take them to a disposal site on land.
Crews are expected to be on the water from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. removing and destroying explosives Monday through Friday. On the weekend, they'll be picking up and destroying small arms and ammunition.
The Army is asking the public to stay away from the vessels, not pass between the beach and the ships, and observe a safety zone that will be enforced around them.
"What we ask is that the public help us out. Don't approach the vessels," King said.
There are other sites in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and in the Gulf of Mexico where the military has dumped weapons. King said the military made cleaning up the site off Waianae a priority because the munitions are so close to shore, and because the local community has expressed concern about them.