Dry CargoEnvironment

22 months on, locals still wait for $40m payout from the Solomon Trader disaster

Economic losses from the bunker spill from last year’s most high profile dry bulk casualty, the Solomon Trader, could be as high as $40m, according to a confidential report compiled for the Solomon Islands government, seen by the the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), with locals still not receiving any compensation nearly 22 months on since the ship ran aground. The compensation issue is made all the more pertinent for the similarities the Solomon Trader’s demise has with this year’s most reported dry bulk casualty, the Wakashio newcastlemax off the pristine southern shores of Mauritius.

The Hong Kong-flagged Solomon Trader ran aground on February 4 last year in Kangava Bay off Rennell Island near the world’s largest raised coral atoll, a UNESCO world heritage site. It was loading bauxite in inclement conditions when the accident happened, which led to hundreds of tonnes of bunker fuel spilling and the ship being declared a total constructive loss.

The accident was branded the worst man-made natural disaster ever to hit the country.

The damage assessment report compiled by a team of local and international experts for the Solomons government found the ecological impacts were significant and long-lasting.

The report was handed to the Solomon Islands government more than a year ago but its contents have never been made public and locals are yet to be compensated.

The report shows that the grounding created the direct loss of more than 10,000 sq m of reef and more than 4,000 sq m of lagoon habitat in Kangava Bay.

Surveys of the sea floor in a 3 km radius from where the the bulk carrier ran aground found “reduced invertebrate abundance and richness, reduced fish biomass, abundance and richness and reduced live coral cover”.

The report also investigated the loss of income for locals from marine resource sales due to a seafood harvest ban, costs associated with replacing seafood with other protein sources, tourism impacts of a five month travel warning and ongoing aesthetic impacts on the coastal environment.

William Kadi, a senior legal counsel at the country’s public solicitors office, is preparing a compensation case on behalf of Rennell islanders and has urged the government to release the report.

The Solomon Trader – now scrapped – had a history of destroying reefs. In 2002, under different ownership and a different name, Doric Chariot, the bulker hit the Piper Reef in the world heritage protected Great Barrier Reef while hauling coal.

The Solomon Trader case has similarities with the Wakashio disaster this year.

The Panamanian-flagged Wakashio, owned by Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping, ran aground, also near UNESCO protected sites, off the south coast of Muaritius, on July 25. The giant ship, sitting on reefs, split in two and spilled hundreds of tonnes of bunker fuel in what has been described as the worst ecological disaster to hit the Indian Ocean republic.

In early November the Mauritian justice minister gave an update on the size of insurance claims across the island in the wake of the grounding of the Wakashio. Maneesh Gobin said insurance claims, both from government as well as individuals and companies around the republic totalled Rs1.51bn ($37.8m). However, numbers are still being compiled and are expected to be considerably higher.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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