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Solomon Islands face ecological disaster after oil spill from grounded cargo vessel

04 March 2019

Three weeks after a cargo ship ran aground in a storm off the Solomon Islands in the West Pacific, urgent efforts are being made to mitigate the effects of a large oil leak from the vessel on the world's largest raised coral atoll. An estimated 75 tonnes of oil have escaped from the Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Solomon Trader, out of 600 tonnes on board. 

Representative image - Shutterstock
Representative image - Shutterstock

Fuel oil from the grounded vessel has spread for hundreds of meters along a coral reef on the coast of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomons, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the largest raised coral atoll in the world. 
The oil poses a major threat to the World Heritage-listed marine sanctuary, which is home to many species found nowhere else.

It is three weeks since the vessel was driven onto a reef on February 5 by a storm. Aerial photos indicate no spill containment boom in place around the stricken vessel. 

Pollution mitigation experts and equipment are being sent from Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on March 3. "Australia remains extremely concerned by the ongoing risk of a major oil spill," she said.

"Given escalating ecological damage, and a lack of action by commercial entities involved, the Solomon Islands Government has requested Australia's assistance," Payne said.

A team from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) was deployed last week and used aerial surveillance to monitor the spill and its threat to the UNESCO World Heritage Site. New Zealand has also dispatched two oil-spill containment specialists.

The Indonesian firm Bintan Mining SI had chartered the ship to take bauxite from its mine on the western half of Rennell Island to China.

Questions have been raised as to why the Kangava Bay mine site on the island kept loading cargoes when a cyclone warning was in effect.


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