AN oil spill in Rennell, Solomon Islands is turning into a disaster of catastrophic proportions, threatening the world’s biggest raised coral atoll and prompting caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou to call for a review of environmental and mining laws on the eve of the national elections.
The spill began when the ship, the MV Solomon Trader ran aground a reef whilst loading mined bauxite in the area on February 5. The vessel, which was carrying nearly 11,000 tonnes of bauxite at the time, is owned by Hong Kong company King Trader and was chartered by Indonesian-based Bintan Mining to ship bauxite from its mining operations to China. Bintan, which is mining under contract from Asia Pacific Investment Development (APID) the mining lease holder, has already distanced itself from any liability for the spill, and allegedly continued to load bauxite even as the oil spread.
In mid-March authorities were reporting 70 tonnes of oil had been spilt. Approximately 600 tonnes of oil remained inside the ship, although it is now being transferred to safe tanks on a tank barge which had been sent from Vanuatu. Now the ship’s insurer, Korea Protection and Indemnity Club, says the spilled load may be greater than original estimated.
The MV Solomon Trader spill is on the doorstep of the Rennell Islands UNESCO World Heritage site, a 37,000-ha land and marine area extending three nautical miles to sea. UNESCO calls the site a true natural laboratory for scientific study, but says it is vulnerable to threats including mining and logging. “The ability of the traditional owners to adequately protect and manage the natural values and resources of the property is limited by a lack of funding, capacity and resources,” UNESCO says.
The spill has not only affected the livelihood of more than 300 people living in communities and villages in the area who cannot eat seafood, their main source of protein-but it has also threatened to destroy one of the country’s most important natural habitats.
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