Dry CargoEnvironmentOperations

Terrifying extent of Solomon bunker spill laid bare

The extent of the ecological disaster hitting the shoreline of Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands has been laid bare today with a series of exclusive photos sent to Splash from the local Tehakatuu Tribe Association.

Heavy bunker fuel is now washing ashore across a vast swathe of the island’s northeastern beaches and a decision is likely to be made later today whether or not to relocate the local population away from the slick.

The 1994-built Solomon Trader ran aground on February 5 while loading bauxite in bad weather. Its anchor dragged and the ship became lodged on a reef near the world’s largest raised coral atoll, a UNESCO site.

In what environmental authorities have branded the worst man-made natural disaster ever to hit the country, at least 60 tonnes of bunker fuel has poured out of the hull of the grounded bulker with locals at the scene telling Splash oil is continuing to pour out of the vintage bulker today.

The ship’s charterer, Bintan, has said that the ship is now a total constructive loss.

The acting director of the Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration, Jonah Mitau, told local media today that initial investigations suggested breaches in the International Safety Management Code led to the grounding of the bulker.

Efforts are being made to move the remaining bunker fuel onboard to ballast tanks and to try and right the ship, which has developed a noticeable listing to port with a view to refloating it soon.

“Australia is extremely concerned at the scale of this disaster,” Australian high commissioner to the Solomon Islands, Rod Brazier, said earlier this week. “The impact of this oil spill will have a devastating effect on the surrounding environment, including potentially on a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the livelihood of the people of Rennell,” he said.

Salvage teams from the US and Australia have been drafted in to remove the wreck.

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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.


  1. OK, the vessel’s anchor dragged. But why did the Master of this vessel decide to remain in an unsheltered anchorage area with typhoon Oma approaching? Any properly trained and experienced Master would have hove up anchor and steamed out to sea to ride it out. Or was the Master under pressure to remain from the owners, shippers and charterers? This incident smells of greed and third world resource exploitation.

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