Solomon Islands blast: Two men working for bomb disposal agency killed in explosion

Briton Stephen Atkinson, known as Luke, and Trent Lee, from Australia, were involved in diffusing live munitions left over from the Second World War.

Both were employees of non-governmental organisation Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA), whose Secretary General, Killi Westhrin, said that it was “devastated by what has happened.”

The blast took place in a residential part of the capital city, Honiara, late on Sunday, though the exact circumstances of the accident remain unclear.

Police said the site had to be declared safe before investigators could determine the details. However, Inspector Clifford Tunuki, the officer in charge of bomb disposal, indicated that there were “several” unexploded remnants in the area and that the men “may have been conducting some UXO [bomb disposal] work.”  

Mr Lee’s Facebook page describes him as a chemical weapons advisor, adding that his role was to “to survey and locate the items, then hand information over [to] the police”.

NPA’s Deputy Secretary General, Per Nergaard, called the explosion a “tragic incident”. In a statement on its website, he said: “So far, we know that there has been an explosion with fatal consequences. Our main priority now is to offer assistance to relatives and colleagues, and to clarify what has happened.”

Mr Nergaard added that the organisation had suspended its activities on the Solomon Islands.

The agency had been assisting local authorities with developing a database of bombs dropped during the Second World War, where the Pacific nation was the scene of fierce land and aerial battles between U.S. and Japanese forces.

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