Tag Archives: Australia

Small Pacific country roasts Australia over its coal mining policies

Barbara Dreaver | TVNZ | 10 March 2019

One of the smallest countries in the Pacific has given Australia a roasting over its coal mining policies.

The low lying island of Tuvalu faces the full impact of climate change, and given the Regional Pacific Forum meeting is to be held there, fireworks are likely.

It wants firm action from Australia on its coal mining policies.

“I would implore and impress on the leaders of Australia to reconsider their coal mining policy and the $64 million dollars they are getting from selling their coal,” says Tuvalu’s prime minister, Enele Sopoaga.

It’s a big call for financially strapped Tuvalu to tell Australia to keep its aid.

“There is no point in giving ODA (Official Development Assistance), we appreciate it of course but giving it at the same time as continuing polluting the atmosphere and increasing the cost of adaptation I think just doesn’t work well,” Mr Sopoaga says.

But Tuvalu has a trump card. Its tiny shores will be hosting and driving the upcoming forum.

The small island states will be expecting to have their voices heard and with Frank Bainimarama attending for the first time in years, Fiji won’t be sitting on the side lines either.

As a world driver on climate change action, this could be an opportunity for Fiji to flex its muscles.

Despite a lot of diplomatic healing in recent times, Fiji’s prime minister still wants New Zealand and Australia out of the forum.

New Zealand First’s Winston Peters says much time has been spent resetting New Zealand’s relationship with Fiji.

“We are talking about a very expanded partnership going into the future, understanding it’s just not the interests of Fiji that we are talking about or the interests of New Zealand we are talking about but indeed our whole neighbourhood,” he said.

The whole neighbourhood will converge in Tuvalu in August and with 18 Pacific leaders at the table, it knows it has a captive audience.


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Solomon Islands oil leak: Australia sends more help amid environmental fears

At least 75 tonnes of oil has spilled from Solomon Trader since Cyclone Oma drove it onto a reef in the Solomon Islands on 5 February. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Spill could damage Rennell Island, the world’s largest raised coral atoll and home to many species found nowhere else

Reuters | 3 March, 2019

Australia is sending more help to the Pacific nation of the Solomon Islands to stop oil from a grounded cargo ship destroying a world heritage-listed marine sanctuary, Australia’s foreign minister said on Sunday.

At least 75 tonnes of heavy fuel oil has spilled from Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Solomon Trader since Cyclone Oma drove it onto a reef at Rennell Island on 5 February.

The ship was carrying 700 tonnes of oil when it ran aground and there are fears the remaining fuel will spoil Rennell Island, the world’s largest raised coral atoll and home to many species found nowhere else.

“Australia remains extremely concerned by the ongoing risk of a major oil spill,” said the foreign minister, Marise Payne, in a statement on Sunday.

“Up to 75 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from the ship has dispersed across the Island’s sea and shoreline, contaminating the ecologically delicate area.

“Given escalating ecological damage, and a lack of action by commercial entities involved, the Solomon Islands Government has requested Australia’s assistance.”

Payne said in response, Australia was sending equipment, vessels and experts under the leadership of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

The eastern half of Rennell Island was the first natural property to be inscribed on the world heritage List with customary management, and is home to 1,200 Polynesians who live by subsistence farming, hunting and fishing, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation website showed.

The United Nations body describes the site, with its unique limestone formations, a large lake and dense forest, as “a true natural laboratory for scientific study”.

Unesco listed East Rennell as “in danger” in 2013 for threats posed by commercial logging of its forests for export to China and the introduction of rats.

Indonesian firm Bintan Mining SI chartered the ship to take bauxite from its mine on the western half of Rennell Island to China. Bintan Mining could not be immediately reached for comment.

The bulk carrier ran aground while loading bauxite during a cyclone, Radio New Zealand reported.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on its website on Thursday that oil had leaked for 6km across the shore.

“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 foreign affairs department said. “Australia is supporting the Solomon Islands government to hold the responsible commercial entities to account.”

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Solomon Trader’s Bunker Spill Continues Without Containment

The Maritime Executive | February 28, 2019

Satellite imagery taken February 25 shows that fuel oil from the grounded freighter Solomon Trader has spread for hundreds of meters along a coral reef on the coast of Rennell Island, the southernmost island in the Solomons. Aerial surveillance images from the scene indicate that as of February 25-26, there was no spill containment boom in place around the Trader, though three weeks have passed since the grounding.

The estimated size of the spill now sits at 75 tonnes out of a maximum 600 tonnes on board, and the Solomons government has acknowledged that it does not have the capacity to cope with the incident on its own. New Zealand and Australia are providing material assistance with the assessment and response operation. 

The Australian High Commission for the Solomon Islands and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) have provided surveillance overflights and imagery of the wreck site. In a statement, the commission said that its assistance is intended to help the Solomons to “hold the responsible parties to account for this disaster.” 

The mine site is operated under contract by Bintan Mining Corporation (BMC), an Indonesian firm, which chartered the Trader from a Hong Kong-based shipowner. BMC maintains that it has no liability arising from the spill, as it is not the vessel operator. The government of the Solomon Islands asserts that the charterer and shipowner bear “the primary responsibility to salvage and mitigate any spill.”

The government’s disaster response agency, NDMO, says that the first priority is to remove the remaining fuel from the ship. This may be a challenge, according to BMC, because the Trader’s auxiliary engines are down, and there is no power for her cranes. Without cranes, transferring salvage equipment from a landing craft would be a challenge, and so BMC is attempting to source a portable generator that can handle the electrical load. 

According to local residents, BMC is still loading commercial cargoes at its pier while the spill continues. “[We’re] calling on the company to halt loading,” said Derek Pongi, a member of Rennell’s Tehakatuu tribe, speaking to SBS. 

Australia has issued an advisory cautioning visitors to “rethink” their need to travel to Rennell Island due to the spill. “Heavy fuel oil is a toxic substance and you should avoid exposure to it,” warns Australia’s SmartTraveller site. The spill primarily affects Kangava Bay, towards the island’s center, and has not yet spread to East Rennell, a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The Trader went aground on February 5 during the passage of Cyclone Oma, a large storm system which lingered over the region for weeks. BMC’s critics have questioned why the Kangava Bay mine site kept loading cargoes when a cyclone warning was in effect, given the hazards posed by the reef and the severity of the storm. 

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Alarm over failure to deal with Solomon Islands oil spill threat

Seventy-five tonnes of fuel has leaked into the ocean in the Solomon Islands after the bulk carrier Solomon Trader ran aground. Photograph: Supplied

Mining operations continue while more than 500 tonnes of fuel oil remain on board MV Solomon Trader, almost a month after it ran aground

Lisa Martin | The Guardian | 1 March 2019 

The environmental damage from an oil spill in the Solomon Islands has been worsened by a bauxite mining company’s continued loading operations near the site where a $30m bulk carrier went aground last month.

The Solomon Islands government has sought urgent help from Australia to deal with the environmental disaster because of frustrations at the slow progress in dealing with the spill.

The MV Solomon Trader had been loading bauxite from a mine on Rennell Island before cyclone Oma pushed it aground on a coral reef on 5 February.

Seventy-five tonnes of fuel oil have so far leaked into the ocean. The 225-metre ship was carrying up to 600 tonnes of fuel oil as well as a full load of bauxite, the main ore used to make aluminium.

The clean-up operation could take months, and may require further assistance from countries such as Australia.

“Once it hits rock the heavy fuel oil is effectively like a bitumen-like substance and has to be removed by hand,” a source in the Solomon Islands with knowledge of the incident said.

 Oil has washed onto shore from the Solomon Trader spill. Photograph: Supplied

The oil is yet to reach East Rennell, the largest raised coral atoll in the world and a world heritage site. Since 2013 the site has been on a Unesco danger list because of logging and overfishing.

Authorities are concerned the ship is at risk of breaking up while Bintan Mining Solomon Islands Limited, the Indonesian company that chartered the vessel, continues to load bauxite with other bulk carriers.

“Bauxite extraction and loading is continuing in the bay, that is further churning up the oil,” a source said.

The Solomon Islands government is expected to demand the company cease operations. Officials from the Solomons maritime administration interviewed mining management on Thursday afternoon in Honiara.

A spokeswoman for the company confirmed its operations were continuing.

“Yes we are continuing,” she said.

She said salvage efforts were under way gave no further details.

An insurance company has engaged a salvage company in the Solomon Islands to handle the ship, which is owned by a Hong Kong company, South Express Ltd, but so far the rest of the oil remains on board.

“All of the evidence indicates very little prospect of imminent action that would involve getting the oil off the vessel and preventing the ongoing spill,” the source said.

It has also been reported that local villagers have been looting the ship for equipment.

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has updated travel advice warning people to reconsider the need to travel to Rennell Island because “heavy fuel oil is a toxic substance” and exposure to it posed a health risk.

The Unesco World Heritage Centre this week expressed concerned about the impact of the oil spill. It was working with the Solomon authorities to minimise the impact of the spill.

Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority has carried out surveillance flights and deployed several officials to the disaster zone.

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Australia lashes neglect over oil spill ‘disaster’ near Solomon Islands

The MV Solomon Trader aground at Rennell Island. CREDIT: AUSTRALIAN HIGH COMMISSION / SOLOMON ISLANDS.

David Wroe | Sydney Morning Herald | February 27, 2019

Australia is helping to pressure a Hong Kong shipping company and several other firms to take responsibility for cleaning up a major oil spill close to a World Heritage-listed coral reef off the Solomon Islands.

The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age understands there is deep frustration within the Australian government over the refusal by the Hong Kong firm, its South Korean insurer and a Solomons mining firm to stem the flow of oil out of the large cargo ship, which ran aground more than three weeks ago.

About 75 tonnes of fuel oil are understood to have leaked out of the stricken vessel already, creating a large slick that is creeping towards the UNESCO-listed southern stretch of Rennell Island, the world’s largest raised coral atoll.

Yet the companies responsible for the mess are showing scant signs of stopping the leak, much less cleaning up what is fast becoming an environmental disaster, an informed source said.

“More than three weeks on from February 5, there’s been little evidence of any action of the companies involved to avert a disaster,” the source said.

“Those companies involved have had very little professional engagement with the Solomon government.”

A desperate Solomon Islands government asked Australia for help.

The MV Solomon Trader aground at Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands which has become an environmental disaster. CREDIT: AUSTRALIAN HIGH COMMISSION, SOLOMON ISLANDS

Pressure is now being put on the companies to “hold those responsible companies and their owners and insurers to account to meet both their commercial and their moral obligations”.

Australia has lately been on a push to consolidate its diplomatic relationships in its near Pacific neighbourhood amid concerns of growing Chinese influence and the worrying strategic implications that carries.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority flew surveillance flights over the area that showed heavy fuel oil leakage into the water. That has begun to spread over the sea and shoreline.

The ship is believed to have about 600 tonnes of fuel still in its tanks.

The MV Solomon Trader, a 225-metre bulk carrier, was loading bauxite, the main rock used to make aluminium, off Rennell Island when Cyclone Oma drove it onto a reef on February 5.

The ship is owned by South Express Ltd, a Hong Kong-based shipping and charter firm. The vessel is Hong Kong-flagged.

It has been contracted to Bintan Mining, which is a Solomons-based firm registered in the British Virgin Islands. The ownership is murky, however. It is reportedly a subsidiary of Asia Pacific Investment Development Ltd.

The Solomon Star and Island Sun newspapers have both reported in the past on allegations of questionable relationships between the former government in the Solomon Islands and APID.

The insurer is South Korean firm Korea P&I. An Australian law firm, Thynne Macartney, is understood to be acting for Korea P&I but a woman answering the phone at the firm’s Brisbane offices declined to comment.

Australia is providing the Solomons government with technical expertise. An AMSA technical adviser was posted to Honiara, the Solomons capital. The Australian government has also readied equipment in the Solomons to stop the spill and clean it up if the companies don’t act.

It is understood the companies responsible have generally not even been responding to Honiara’s requests for help.

Korea P&I appears to have deployed a salvage crew but they haven’t formally told the Solomons government the extent of anything they are doing.

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Environmental disaster looms at heritage-listed Solomon Islands site after oil spill

PHOTO: The MV Solomon Trader ran aground on a reef at Lavangu Bay in East Rennell while trying to load bauxite on the island. (ABC: The Australian High Commission)

Key points:

  • An estimated 60 tonnes of oil has spilled into a UNESCO heritage-listed site
  • Bad weather from Cyclone Oma delayed efforts to assess the impact of the spill
  • Mining company Bintan said specialists from Australia and the US would salvage the bulk carrier

Evan Wasuka | ABC News

Australia’s High Commission in the Solomon Islands has slammed the operators of a bauxite mine over an oil spill that could affect a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader ran aground on a reef on the remote island of Rennell in the south of the Solomon Islands in early February while attemtping to load bauxite from a nearby mine.

“Australia is extremely concerned at the scale of this disaster,” High Commissioner Rod Brazier said.

“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.”

The spill is not contained, and bad weather from Cyclone Oma in early February prevented earlier attempts to assess the vessel and the damage to the environment.

An assessment by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has estimated that 60 tonnes of oil has been spilled with a further 600 tonnes onboard the ship.

“We are very concerned about the circumstances that have led to this disaster. Our friends in the Pacific, including the Solomon Islands Government, do not tolerate reckless behaviour by companies.”

A member of the local community, Derek Pongi, said there was concern about damage to fishing grounds.

“It’s impossible to fish or swim in the sea,” he said.

“The people rely on the sea but now it’s all contaminated and polluted. Things are not looking good for my people.”

PHOTO: The MV Solomon Trader ran aground on a reef at Lavangu Bay in East Rennell. (ABC: Australian High Commission)

National Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates said the Government was holding the charterers, the ship’s owners and their insurers, to account.

“The Government is very clear in the directive to the company to have the salvage done, remove the oil, cleaning up the environment and removing the wreck from Solomon Islands,” Mr Yates said.

Indonesian mining company Bintan said specialists had been brought in from Australia and the US to salvage the bulk carrier.

“As a charterer only, we have done what we could to coordinate and assist the shipowner and their engaged professional salvage since the beginning of the accident. We will keep doing so,” Bintan chief executive Fred Tang told the ABC.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also released a statement suggesting travellers reconsider venturing to Rennell.

“Think seriously about whether you need to travel here due to the high level of risk,” the message read.

“If you do travel, do your research and take a range of extra safety precautions, including having contingency plans. Check that your travel insurer will cover you.”

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Court rules out Hunter Valley coalmine on climate change grounds

A judge has rejected the Rocky Hill coal mine at scenic Gloucester Valley in the Upper Hunter because of its ‘visual and social impacts’. Photograph: David Angel/Alamy Stock Photo

Judge rejects Rocky Hill mine near Gloucester, NSW, because of its impact on the town and ‘dire consequences’ of increasing emissions

Michael McGowan and Lisa Cox | The Guardian | February 7, 2019

The controversial Rocky Hill coalmine in the Hunter Valley will not go ahead after a landmark ruling in the land and environment court on Friday that cited the impact it would have had on climate change.

Chief judge Brian Preston dismissed an appeal by Gloucester Resources, which was seeking to overturn a New South Wales government decision to reject an open-cut mine because of its impact on the town of Gloucester, north of Newcastle.

The EDO joined the case last April, arguing on behalf of its client, Groundswell Gloucester, that the mine’s detrimental impact on climate change and on the social fabric of the town should be considered as part of the merit appeal.

David Morris, the chief executive of EDO NSW, called the decision “momentous” and said it would be “profoundly influential” in the approval of future fossil fuel projects.

“It’s very difficult to see how any future coal project avoids the judge’s finding about this being the wrong time for it,” he said.

In his judgment, Preston explicitly cited the project’s potential impact on climate change, writing that an open-cut coalmine in the Gloucester Valley “would be in the wrong place at the wrong time”.

“Wrong place because an open cut coal mine in this scenic and cultural landscape, proximate to many people’s homes and farms, will cause significant planning, amenity, visual and social impacts,” he wrote.

“Wrong time because the GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions of the coal mine and its coal product will increase global total concentrations of GHGs at a time when what is now urgently needed, in order to meet generally agreed climate targets, is a rapid and deep decrease in GHG emissions. These dire consequences should be avoided. The project should be refused.”

In a “first of its kind” hearing, the EDO had argued that the mine should be refused in part because of its impact on Australia’s commitments to the Paris climate agreement.

In his judgment, Preston noted that while there was “no proscription” on the approval of new emissions sources such as coalmines under the agreement, approval of the project “cannot assist in achieving the rapid and deep reductions in GHG emissions that are necessary” to meet the goals of the agreement.

“It matters not that the aggregate of the project’s greenhouse gas emissions may represent a small fraction of the global total”, he said.

“The global problem of climate change needs to be addressed by multiple local actions to mitigate emissions by sources and remove greenhouse gases by sinks.”

He rejected GRL’s argument that the project should be allowed because emissions from the mine would be abated by other emissions reductions schemes as “speculative and hypothetical”.

“There is no evidence before the court of any specific and certain action to ‘net out’ the GHG emissions of the project,” he wrote in his judgment.

“A consent authority cannot rationally approve a development that is likely to have some identified environmental impact on the theoretical possibility that the environmental impact will be mitigated or offset by some unspecified and uncertain action at some unspecified and uncertain time in the future.”

The judgment also rejected the mine on the grounds of its visual impact and the social impact of factors such as dust and noise on the surrounding community.

Morris said the ramifications would be felt by state and federal ministers and other decision makers who assess fossil fuel projects.

“This is necessarily a case-specific judgment. It relates to this coalmine proposed in the Gloucester Valley,” Morris said. “It is persuasive, influential but it is not binding on any future decision.

“But it will weigh heavily on the minds of decision makers.”

He said the judge’s comment that the mine was being proposed at the “wrong time” was “applicable to every fossil fuel project that’s proposed in this country and internationally going forward.”

Morris said Australia was increasingly approaching a moment when approval of a fossil fuel project could be considered “unreasonable”.

“And unreasonableness is a ground of legal challenge,” he said.

Climate Council chief executive Amanda McKenzie also welcomed the decision.

“The NSW Land and Environment court has effectively ruled that coal – just like tobacco and asbestos – is bad for us,” McKenzie said.

“I’m thrilled to see the law catching up with the science.

“If I was proposing to build a coal mine right now, I’d be feeling pretty nervous.”

NSW planning minister Anthony Roberts was asked for the government’s reaction to the court’s decision.

“That is the legal process and we respect the court’s decision,” he said.

A spokesman for the NSW planning and environment department said the department was pleased the court had agreed with its recommendation on the proposed coal mine. He said the decision supported the current process of assessing developments on a case-by-case basis.

In 2017, the independent planning commission rejected the mine because of its proximity to the town of Gloucester, its visual impact, and contravention of the city’s zoning plans.

“The judgment confirms the Department of Planning and Environment was correct in its decision to recommend refusal of the application to the Independent Planning Commission, and the Commission was correct to refuse the application,” the spokesman said.

“This decision shows NSW has a robust and transparent planning process that is delivering the best outcomes for the whole community.”

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