On Tuesday 5 February, a bauxite bulk carrier, the ‘Solomon Trader’, carrying over 700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil ran aground in Solomon Islands’ Rennell and Bellona Province. The vessel is located in Kangava Bay, Rennell island, home to a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Aerial assessments conducted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on behalf of the Solomon Islands government have confirmed extensive oil leakage around the ship, which has begun to disperse across the surrounding sea and shoreline. The oil spans five to six kilometres across the shore and is moving towards the adjacent World Heritage area. There is a high risk remaining heavy fuel oil on the vessel (currently estimated at over 600 tonnes) will be released into the surrounding area.
The Solomon Islands government has advised that responsibility to salvage the vessel and mitigate the environmental impact of this incident rests with the commercial entities involved. Australia has been profoundly disappointed by the slow response of these companies, and their lack of adequate communications with and responsiveness to the Solomon Islands government.
Australian Government assistance
Australia is supporting the Solomon Islands government to hold the responsible commercial entities to account for the ongoing oil spill from the grounding of the MV Solomon Islands Trader. At the request of the Solomon Islands government we are providing technical advice and assistance to inform government assessments and action in response to the spill, and supporting the government in its dealings with the responsible entities. We are using our international network and standing as a close partner of Solomon Islands to advocate for Solomon Islands’ interests and bring pressure to bear on responsible entities.
As requested by the Solomon Islands government, we will also act, as appropriate, to minimise the impacts of the spill while ensuring we do not diminish in any way the fundamental obligations of responsible parties to properly contain and manage this incident.
When news of the grounding emerged on 14 February, the Solomon Islands Government sought Australia’s assistance to assess the impact of the incident and advise on options to respond. Australia has deployed Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) experts to Honiara to conduct aerial surveillance, undertake an operational assessment of the site and provide advice to the Solomon Islands government on potential mitigation options. Australia has also pre-positioned equipment and deployed a salvage consultant to advise the Solomon Islands government on the operations of the commercial entities involved.
When AMSA overflight inspections revealed fresh oil leakage around the ship on 24 February, the Solomon Islands Government requested Australia’s assistance to help mitigate the environmental impact of the incident. In response, Australia is deploying additional personnel, equipment and maritime assets from Australia to minimise the impact of the spill.
Australia will continue to stand behind the Solomon Islands Government’s efforts to ensure the commercial parties responsible for this incident take action. We expect companies operating in our region to meet international standards and take seriously their environmental obligations.