MV Solomon Trader Towed to PNG

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FOUR months after running aground in Rennell, spilling hundreds of tons of oil into Kangava Bay, the MV Solomon Trader was successfully towed out of Solomon Islands’ waters on 14 June.

The Hong Kong flagged ship, owned by King Trader Ltd and represented by South Express Ltd, ran aground on Kangava Bay reef on 5 February 2019 while loading bauxite during the bad weather that developed into Tropical Cyclone Oma. Within weeks, the vessel spilled an estimated 297 tons of heavy fuel oil into the bay.

The site of the oil spill directly neighbours Solomon Islands’ only UNESCO World Heritage Site East Rennell, the largest raised coral atoll in the world. It is also an important site for marine life and for the livelihoods of local Rennell residents.

The vessel has been towed to Port Moresby for further inspection and repairs, and then to Singapore before being dismantled for scrap.

The initial response to the incident and oil spill by the responsible commercial entities was slow and under-resourced. The Solomon Islands Government, with support from the Australian and New Zealand Governments, worked tirelessly to oversee and quality-assure the vessel’s salvage and the oil spill cleanup.

At the request of the Solomon Islands Government, Australia’s and New Zealand’s support included a large-scale on-water oil recovery operation in the absence of the ship’s insurer (Korea P&I Club) willing to fund such an operation. The Australia-New Zealand response collected large quantities of oil from the bay, helped to contain the spread of oil, and helped to protect the UNESCO World Heritage Site from the harmful effects of heavy fuel oil pollution.

Unfortunately, there will likely be a noticeable long term impact to the environment as a result of the oil spill. The Solomon Islands Government through the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management & Meteorology and the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources with Korea P&I are presently conducting an Environmental Damage Assessment to determine these long term impacts, with technical assistance from New Zealand and the University of Queensland.

The Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Authority, with London Offshore Consultants advisory services, oversaw and ultimately approved the repair of the vessel’s damaged hull prior to its departure from Rennell.

While the ship has now left Solomons Islands’ waters, many challenges remain for the responsible commercial entities. These include: concluding the shoreline cleanup, the safe disposal of oily waste, the restoration of local livelihoods, and pursuing fines and compensation for damages. These are being overseen by the Solomon Islands Government.

“Effective governance and proactive enforcement of laws in environment, mining as well as logging is crucial in assuring that mining and logging in Solomon Islands is conducted sensibly and sustainably,” said Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Environment, Dr Melchior Mataki.

“I hope this incident is a trigger to further strengthen reforms in these sectors.” “Important lessons have been learned in managing this response,” said New Zealand High Commissioner Don Higgins.

“We applaud Solomon Islands Government for their leadership on managing the response to this disaster and hope that we never again see an ugly incident like this in beautiful Solomon Islands.”

Australian High Commissioner Roderick Brazier said “The departure of the Solomon Trader is a significant milestone, and it is a testament to the effective working relationship between our Governments”.

Mr Brazier, will deliver a presentation on the MV Solomon Trader incident at 2pm on Wednesday 26 June 2019 at SINU, which is open to all interested members of the public.