9 May 2018
A 173 per cent surge in call-outs kept the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) bomb disposal experts busy in the first quarter of 2018, with about half of the incidents occurring in the country’s three main cities.
The E Squadron (Explosive Ordnance Disposal, or EOD) responded to 330 call-outs in the first three months to March, compared to 121 in the same period last year, Colonel Rob Gillard, the Special Operations Component Commander, said.
With the amount of time spent per task averaging three hours, this equated to about 990 hours spent on EOD call-outs from January to March, up about 170 per cent from the 368 hours recorded in the first quarter of 2017.
“Our teams are on call 24/7 and work closely with New Zealand Police to render safe all explosive ordnance,” Colonel Gillard said.
The tasks varied in duration, depending on the complexity and the risks involved, he said.
“They range from less-complex problems, which take a matter of minutes to resolve, to extremely complicated situations, which require work for several days.”
EOD call-outs have been rising steadily in the past three years. E Squadron responded to 1151 call-outs in 2017, up 21 per cent from the 949 call-outs the previous year and 67 per cent more than the 689 recorded in 2015.
Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch are the busiest locations for EOD call-outs, accounting for about 50 per cent of total call-outs.
“Anything that is suspected of being an explosive should not be tampered with or moved,” Colonel Gillard said.
“These things can be lethal, so ring the police immediately so the EOD team can check the item. Don’t assume that it is safe and accidently cause harm to yourselves or others.”
Unexploded ordnance had been found in innocuous places, such as farm sheds, he said.
In one case last year, new owners of a property in Raglan in Waikato were cleaning out their shed when they found what turned out to be a live high-explosive mortar round.
In another case, a 20-member team comprising E Squadron and police spent more than a month planning, testing and finalising a plan to safely dispose of about a tonne of white phosphorus, which was used previously in the manufacture of pest-control products.
Because of their expertise in bomb disposal, E Squadron supports New Zealand Police in securing large international events such as the Lions rugby tour last year.
The squadron also provides training and advice to other government agencies on safety procedures, detection and mitigation measures, and threat analysis. Squadron members are trained in urban search and rescue and have assisted Civil Defence authorities in responding to natural disasters.
Bomb disposal was painstaking and fraught with danger, Colonel Gillard said.
“E Squadron’s motto – “Into Harm’s Way” – reflects the dangers that members face as they seek to render safe explosive ordnance, including improvised explosives and chemical, biological and radiological explosive devices,” he said.
Number of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) call-outs:
1st quarter 2018: 330
1st quarter 2017: 121
Number of hours spent on EOD call-outs:
1st quarter 2018: 990
1st quarter 2017: 368