A successful salvage operation over the weekend has finally staunched the flow of bunker fuel from a grounded bulker in a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Solomon Islands.
The 1994-built Hong Kong-flagged Solomon Trader, insured by Korea P&I, ran aground on February 5 while loading bauxite in bad weather off Rennell Island. Its anchor dragged and the ship became lodged on a reef near the world’s largest raised coral atoll. The ship, declared a total constructive loss, is owned by Hong Kong owner, King Trader. A delay in commencing salvage operations had seen nearly 100 tons of bunker fuel spill from the ship, washing up on nearby shores.
Work began on Friday to pump the fuel from the ruptured tank into a secure container. It was then transferred to a barge over the weekend.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority also set up up a four-tonne dynamic boom system over the weekend brought from Brisbane to start cleaning up the oil that has already spilled into the sea. Other AMSA vessels also arrived on the scene on Sunday and locals ashore tell Splash that the worst of the spill now appears to be over.
Of added concern is the high amount of toxic bauxite in the sea, which locals claim came in the wake of the ship grounding, two contracted barges (pictured below) dumped their cargoes onto the reef.
Local newspaper Solomon Star reported over the weekend that the Marine Protected Area (MPA) at Lavangu Bay on Rennell Island where the ship grounded has been “completely destroyed” by spilled oil.
“One cannot see anything inside the MPA as the water turns black from the oil and kills all the marine life inside the protected area,” an official from the Solomon Islands Maritime Authority told the local newspaper.
The country’s acting prime minister Rick Houenipwela said that it was vital the nation updates its marine pollution laws as well as environmental and mining regulations.
Any new laws should include liability provisions to ensure companies involved in accidents are held responsible and are required to take action immediately, the prime minister said over the weekend.
Dr Mechtild Rössler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, has said the UN body is watching the disaster closely and will be sending a team to survey the endangered ecosystem shortly.
“It is of the utmost importance that any damage to the World Heritage property and the livelihoods of the local communities is fully covered by the responsible company, owners and insurers”, Rössler said.
The Solomon Trader has 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.