Tag Archives: bauxite mining

Solomon Islands: Minister should meet directly with local communities over mining concerns

Amnesty International | 9 December 2019

The Solomon Islands Minister of the Environment should conduct face-to-face consultations with local communities on Wagina Island to hear their concerns before deciding the fate of a proposed open-cast bauxite mine there, Amnesty International said today.

The Minister is expected to decide soon whether to uphold a March 2019 Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) decision that overturned the mining licence, after residents raised fears it could impact livelihoods on the island.

“The Solomon Islands government must ensure that all affected communities are genuinely and meaningfully consulted about this proposal,” said Richard Pearshouse, Head of Crisis and Environment at Amnesty International.

“The Minister should sit down with local communities on Wagina Island and hear their concerns.”

Wagina Island is a remote island of approximately 80 km2 in north-west Choiseul Province. Its residents are originally from Kiribati, having been relocated in the early 1960s by the British colonial administration. Estimated at around 2,000 people, they live by subsistence farming, fishing and seaweed farming.

In 2013, the Ministry of the Environment granted a Solomon Islands-registered company, Solomon Bauxite Limited (SBL), a permit to mine bauxite on Wagina Island. The following year, Wagina residents opposed the mine in the country’s High Court, which issued a stay of proceedings so that the case could be heard by the EAC.

In March 2019, the EAC overturned the Ministry of Environment’s consent for the mine. The EAC found that the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed mine – which is required under national law – had insufficient information to assess the impacts of the proposed mine, and that the legislative procedures for public consultation and publication of the EIS were not followed.

SBL has appealed the EAC’s decision to the Minister of the Environment. In meetings and correspondence with Amnesty International, the company has stressed that it has always complied with the laws applicable to its operations and has acknowledged the importance of upholding human rights.

Amnesty International visited Wagina Island in July 2019 and interviewed a dozen islanders about their concerns, as well as 10 others familiar with the issue, including representatives of national and provincial governments, civil society organizations, journalists and lawyers. The organization also reviewed background documents, including meeting minutes and a copy of the 2012 EIS and its 2013 supplement.

“There is much apprehension about the potential environmental and social impacts of this mine and many community members told Amnesty International they did not feel sufficiently informed or consulted about it,” said Richard Pearshouse.

Some residents of Kukson and Nikamuroo villages and Benyamina islet told Amnesty International that they are concerned about the possible impacts from mining on fishing and sea-weed farming from mine run-off or disturbances to fresh groundwater discharges into the sea.

The EIS states that: “The [residents of Wagina] do not currently use either the mine or the processing facility sites for any productive purpose.” However, some residents told Amnesty International they use some of the land covered by the proposed mine for purposes including gardening and harvesting timber for housing.

“The government of the Solomon Islands needs to resolve the issues of land ownership and use on this part of Wagina. Taking away land that people occupy and use without following due legal process runs the risk of forced evictions,” said Richard Pearshouse.

According to the EIS, the development will include an open pit mine, a bulk carrier wharf and small boat wharf, airstrip, administration offices, a power station, fuel farm, and accommodation for about 150 employees (who with family members may reach 1,000 people). The proposed mining involves trucking approximately 150 truckloads of bauxite, each with a 35 to 50 tonne payload, for 16 hours each day. The proposed life of the mine is between 16 and 20 years.

A consultation meeting on the proposed mine was held in Kukson village in February 2013. Official government minutes from that meeting show only 23 villagers attended and that no-one attended from Nikamuroo (the village closest to the proposed mine). The EAC found deficiencies in the process of raising public awareness about this consultation meeting and the application for a licence.
Wagina residents told Amnesty International that four copies of the 2012 EIS were sent to the Island after the February 2013 consultation meeting. The 2012 EIS was supplemented by another EIS in June 2013, approximately four months after the meeting in Kukson. According to Amnesty International’s interviews with residents of Wagina, no consultation meetings took place to discuss this new information.

“The absence of full, accurate and timely information and the lack of any follow-up on questions raised by those who were able to attend the one consultation meeting, raises concerns about whether the engagement with affected communities can be considered genuine or meaningful,” said Richard Pearshouse.

The Minister’s review should include checking the date of any meetings with affected communities, where the meetings took place, whether all sections of the community – including women and those who cannot read – could participate effectively, what language meetings were held in, what advance notice and information was given, and what specific issues were discussed.

Governments have a duty to respect and protect human rights in the context of business activities. All companies have a responsibility to respect human rights throughout their operations, independently of a state’s own human rights obligations. To meet this responsibility, companies should have in place an ongoing and proactive human rights due diligence process to identify, prevent, mitigate and account for how they address their impacts on human rights. This may require going beyond the legal requirements in the country where they are operating.

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Axiom mining claims Solomon PM’s Chief of Staff sought $700,000

Axiom had its foreign investment licence cancelled by the Solomon Islands government in October this year and has been told that its expatriate workers were no longer able to stay in the country.

Solomon Times | 4 December 2019

The Australian newspaper reports that the Prime Minister’s chief of staff (prior to his appointment in October 2016) had sought payments from Axiom to smooth over problems with the government at the time.

Axiom mining chief Ryan Mount said Robson Djokovic, who is Mr Sogavare’s nephew and has a criminal record in Australia, had sought AUD$700,000 “consultancy” through a Fijian lawyer to allow the company to hold on to its Isabel Nickel project.

“When we looked at the company records, it was half-owned by Robson Djokovic,” Mr Mount said.

He said he refused to pay, and the ASX-listed company was being forced out of the country in favour of a Chinese company that caused the Solomon Islands biggest environmental disaster.

Mr Mount has pleaded for Australian government assistance, telling senior advisers to Scott Morrison and Foreign Minister Marise Payne that the company, which has 8000 shareholders, was being denied due process by the Solomon Islands government.

Amid moves to strengthen relations with Pacific governments, Mr Mount said he was told by a senior official at the Australian high commission in Honiara that it was “time to pack your bags” and leave the country.

Mr Djokovic, an Australian citizen, told The Australian via text message that the allegations against him were “a smear”.

He said his criminal convictions for burglary, fraud and drug offences “are no longer relevant but have been used for political convenience” by Mr Mount and others seeking to undermine him.

Wilson Rano, a well-known lawyer in Solomon Islands, posted on social media that he was in fact the person referred to in the article by The Australian.

“I recall having a meeting with Ryan Mount, and Mr Stratton (an Australian Lawyer) representing Axiom Mining Company Limited at Nadi, Fiji in 2016. This was after Axiom KB Ltd was licking its wounds from the SMM v Axiom Case which our Court of Appeal dismissed both Axiom’s Licence and SMM’s licence and found that the Commissioner of Lands with the help of Axiom KB Ltd and Ryan Mount illegally registered a lease over Takata/Kolosori tenement,” Rano explained.

He said that the meeting in Fiji was purposely to come up with a legislation that could give clarity to the whole mining process and help secure the San Jorge and Takata Tenements for Axiom Mining Co Ltd.

“It is an idea which Mr Mount was championing in light of his position that the Mines and Minerals Act simply failed to recognize investors like Axiom and how Axiom is the only company capable of properly mine San Jorge and Takata.

“As a professional, my position has always been that I would be willing to do all legal means possible to do the work in consultation with Mr Stanton and Axiom if Axiom is prepared to put its money where its mouth is. I drafted a consulting agreement between Axiom Mining Co Ltd and myself and stated that my consulting fees is AUD$700,000 and payable on instalments upon achievement of each stages of the proposed legislation.”

Rano says that having received instructions from Axiom he sought the assistance of Mr. Djokovic, at the time was a freelance consultant and was not yet employed by the Solomon Islands Government. Rano says that by the end of October 2016, Mr Djokovic joined the Government as Chief of Staff and advised that he could no longer be involved.

“Because Axiom could not afford to, we could not take the matter further. It is not however, because Mr Mount discovered that Mr Djokovic was a partner in Echelon Consulting Ltd. Echelon Consulting Ltd was a registered company I registered in 30 January 2015 and has nothing to do with Mr Djokovic,” said Mr. Rano.

“The only connection between Mr Djokovic and Echelon Consulting Ltd is me. It is no secret that Mr Djokovic and I have been business partners for many years which on his part has been disclosed in full to the Leadership Code Commission.”

Axiom had its foreign investment licence cancelled by the Solomon Islands government in October this year and has been told that its expatriate workers were no longer able to stay in the country.

Mr. Mount continues to argue that the country’s pro-China Minister for Mines, Bradley Tovosia — a key figure in the campaign to sever diplomatic relations with Taiwan — was a leading figure in moves to deny the company an export permit.

The move — a month after the Solomons switched diplomatic relations from Taiwan to China — follows the denial of an export permit to Axiom and the assignment of one of its prospective tenements to the Hong Kong-based Bintan Mining.

Bintan sparked a massive Australian government-funded clean-up earlier this year when one of its bauxite ships spilled 80 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on an environmentally sensitive reef on Rennell Island, South of the Solomon Islands.

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Australia to be sued over mining project’s ‘unmerciful’ destruction of Indigenous land

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who is launching legal action against the commonwealth, says Nabalco and its successor, Rio Tinto, failed to ask the local people where they could and couldn’t go on the Gove peninsula. Photograph: Peter Eve/AAP

Galarrwuy Yunupingu taking legal action for loss of native title as well as destruction of dreaming sites

Helen Davidson | The Guardian | 4 August 2019

The federal government is facing a lawsuit over damage done to Indigenous land by the decades-old mining project that sparked the Yirrkala Bark Petitions.

Gumatj leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu revealed on Saturday that he and his people were taking legal action against the commonwealth, seeking compensation for the loss of native title over the minerals exploited by mine operator Nabalco and its successor, Rio Tinto, as well as the destruction of key dreaming sites.

The suit is expected to use the historic precedent set by the Timber Creek judgment by the high court in March, which ruled on monetary compensation for loss of native title.

“They’ve come to Gove peninsula without asking properly of the landowners of the place,” Yunupingu told the crowd at Garma festival, in north-east Arnhem Land.

“They have all come, getting the OK from the PM and the government of the country, to come all the way and start digging and insulting the country.”

He accused the two companies of having “ripped some land unmercifully”.

“They have damaged our country without seeking advice to us and they have damaged a lot of dreamings – dreamings that were important to Aboriginal people.”

He said the companies failed to ask the local people where they could and couldn’t go on the Gove peninsula in north-east Arnhem Land.

Traditional owners have received royalties from the mine, a fraction of the total revenue drawn from the site. They have recently opened their own mine and training centre, Gulkula Mining, of which Yunupingu is chair.

Prospecting for what would become the bauxite mine and refinery began in the 1950s, and Yolngu traditional owners were strongly opposed.

Leases were granted and excised without consultation of the people of Yirrkala, and the now historic Yirrkala bark petitions were delivered to the federal government in 1963. Yunupingu, whose father was then Gumatj clan leader, helped draft the petitions.

However, the mine went ahead, with the Gove agreement signed five years later between the commonwealth and Nabalco.

Traditional owners took the mine to court in 1971, the first ever native title litigation, but lost, with the judge citing the doctrine of terra nullius in his judgement.

The loss sparked the establishment of the Woodward royal commission, and NT land rights act.

The case flagged by Yunupingu on Saturday will rest on the precedent set by this year’s Timber Creek decision from the high court, which awarded more than $2.5m in compensation to native title holders over dozens of acts by the NT government between 1980 and 1996 which were later found to have “impaired or extinguished” native title rights and interests.

More than half the amount was to compensate for “cultural loss”.

The March judgment reduced the amount ordered by the federal court in 2016 but otherwise held up the new precedent of quantifying the monetary value of native title and associated compensation for the removal of land rights.

Native title experts responded to the ruling with predictions it would pave the way for potentially billions of dollars in liability payments by Australian governments.

The attorney general, Christian Porter, said on Sunday: “There is a well established process for native title claims and those processes would be followed for any such claim lodged regarding bauxite mining.

“I note that at this point what has been said is an intention to lodge a claim and that a claim has not yet been lodged.”


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Solomon Islands: bay hit by oil spill suffers second mining contamination crisis

A major bauxite spill has turned water red at Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands. Photograph: Supplied

An estimated 5,000 tonnes of bauxite has spilled into Kangava Bay, where a tanker ran aground in February

Lisa Martin | The Guardian | 5 July 2019

A second major spill has hit the pristine Solomon Islands bay where a bulk carrier ran aground on a coral reef and leaked oil earlier this year.

On Monday, an estimated 5,000 tonnes of bauxite, the ore used in aluminium smelting, slipped into the water at Kangava Bay, Rennell Island, while it was being loaded on to a barge.

“The water is red. It’s like a scene from the Exodus,” a source on the island told the Guardian.

It is the second major environmental disaster for the area this year.

MV Solomon Trader ran aground on a reef in February, spilling about 80 tonnes of heavy fuel oil. The vessel was there to load bauxite from the island’s mining operations, which lies on the doorstep of a world heritage site in the island’s east.

The Guardian understands the Solomon Islands government is expected to sign off on the four-month oil spill clean up on 17 July, following the completion of the environmental assessment.

While local villagers have been told not to eat fish, it is understood many still are, in the absence of other food sources on the remote island. Test results are yet to come back to determine whether fish stocks have been contaminated with hydrocarbons.

“The impact of the oil is not nearly as bad as you would expect. The oil isn’t likely to cause any long-term damage,” a seperate person on the ground told the Guardian.

“The bauxite is the overwhelming issue by a long shot and that is causing substantial long term changes to the marine ecosystem.”

Ongoing mismanagement of bauxite loading has resulted in the whole bottom of the bay, down to several hundred metres, being covered in the mineral, the source said.

“It’s just totally out of control,” he said.

University of Technology Sydney water and ecology expert Martina Doblin warned the bauxite powder was likely to smother and bury what is on the ocean floor and will be spread around in tidal currents.

“It could limit the amount of light, so the water is cloudy and that means less light penetration for coral and sea grasses … it would have a harmful effect,” Doblin said.

OceansWatch Solomon Islands spokesman Lawrence Nodua said the contamination would cause problems for fish breeding.

“Normally fish come to where the coral are, so if the coral dies, they won’t be there, and [will lose the reef protection],” he said.

He claimed there were reports that children swimming in the bay were experiencing skin irritation from the poor water quality.

A Bintan Mining Solomon Islands company spokesman told the Guardian on Thursday that loading operations were suspended following the incident on Monday. The company would not comment further.

Sources on the ground said the company had moved loading operations to other parts of the island.

During the height of the oil spill disaster, Bintan Mining Solomon Islands faced criticism for continuing with its bauxite loading operations.

While currents pushed slick away from the world heritage site, the Guardian has been told small amounts have washed up in the area.

“Nothing significant, literally the size of a 50c piece here or there,” another source said.

Since 2013 the site has been on a Unesco danger list because of logging and overfishing.

The bulk carrier’s insurer, KP&I, said negotiations over clean-up operation costs would kick off soon but warned compensation claims would take time.

Although matters of liability are yet to be determined, the insurer and ship owner have previously “expressed deep remorse” and characterised the situation as “totally unacceptable”.

Comment has been sought from the Solomon Islands Maritime Authority, National Disaster Management Office and mining ministry.


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Stricken Solomon Islands ship is refloated

Radio New Zealand | 13 May, 2019

The ship at the centre of an environmental disaster in Solomon Islands has been refloated after spending more than three months stranded on a coral reef.

The MV Solomon Trader unleashed a huge volume of oil near a World Heritage Area, and destroyed the food stocks and livelihoods of locals.

The National Disaster Office says the Solomon Trader was refloated on Saturday.

It says its removal will now allow a full environmental assessment to be carried out, and it’s likely the Solomon Islands government will seek compensation for environmental damage.

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Solomon Islands graves destroyed by Chinese mining company

Tribal chief Joshua Na’siu says the decision to allow mining has been disastrous. Credit: Newshub.

Michael Morrah | Newshub | 6 April 2019

A tribal chief in the Solomon Islands says he feels regret and shame after doing business with a mining company operating there.

He says his people have not received adequate compensation from the mining and have suffered from environmental damage and the destruction of family grave sites.

Joshua Na’siu is the chief of Aba’tai village on Rennell Island. He entered into a deal with the mining firm believing it would lead to a better life. He’s now changed his mind.

“I believe that there’s nothing good in this mining,” he told Newshub.

“I’m very worried about my family and our tribes because I don’t know how to sustain our life.”

On his doorstep is a mining ship chartered by the Chinese firm Bintan Mining. It’s grounded and is leaking oil.

There’s been another sacrifice, one that’s even more personal for Joshua.

In a ute paid for by the mining company, he took Newshub to his old village – now just a crater in the red earth.

“I’m very regret and also I can’t believe it because most of their promises are not function well [sic],” he says.

He allowed the company to dig up his gardens to mine for bauxite, used to make aluminium.

He says he got just SI$20,000 (NZ$3,600) in return, and as the excavators worked through the night, four of his family’s grave plots were also destroyed.

“They work overnight and the other day they told me that some machine already dig it,” he says.

He says he was compensated for the damaged graves.

Bintan Mining has development projects to help support locals. A basketball court and church in one village was paid for by the firm. But there’s little evidence of progress in other areas.

Company manager Fred Tang refused an on-camera interview, but disputed the SI$20,000 figure, saying Bintan pays “much more than that”.

He said Bintan runs a “very decent business” and that “infrastructure will be implemented” in other areas.

Na’siu doesn’t have much hope.

“You can see for yourself. Our living, our road. There are no big changes,” he says.

Na’siu’s been trying to negotiate the construction of a kindergarten in his area.

He’ll continue to work with the mining company in the hope his people will eventually see some meaningful positive change.

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Solomon Islands: Oil stops spilling but environmental toll still being calculated

A satellite image of Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands, where the oil spill occurred. Image courtesy of Google Earth.

Catherine Wilson | Mongabay | 2 April 2019

  • On Feb. 5, a Hong Kong-based bulk carrier, the MV Solomon Trader, ran aground off a remote island in the Solomon Islands. It spilled heavy fuel across coastal waters, beaches and a sensitive coral reef system not far from a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • On March 18, the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office reported that salvage experts have finally stabilized the beleaguered ship and stopped the fuel leak.
  • An estimated 80 metric tons (88 tons) of heavy fuel oil escaped from the ship, but the government maintains that the full environmental impact of the spill remains to be determined.
  • The Solomon Islands government, aided by Australia, began a cleanup operation in early March that continues.

An international effort to halt a massive oil spill from a wrecked ship in a far-flung province of the Solomon Islands in the southwest Pacific has finally succeeded. But the scale of damage to the marine and coastal environment near Rennell Island, where the incident occurred within a few kilometers of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is still being reckoned.

On Feb. 5, the Hong Kong-based MV Solomon Trader ran aground in bad weather, spilling heavy fuel across coastal waters, beaches and a sensitive coral reef system. Local experts decried the spill as potentially the country’s worst human-made environmental disaster.

“The full extent of the impact of the oil spill on the ocean and environment is yet to be determined. The investigation is ongoing and may take some time,” Joe Horokou, director of environment and conservation at the Solomon Islands environment ministry, told Mongabay.

However, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which sent a team of marine and environmental experts to support the Solomon Islands’ disaster response, offered a bit more detail. “More than 80 tonnes [88 tons] of heavy fuel oil has dispersed across the island’s sea and shoreline, contaminating the ecologically delicate area,” the agency stated in a March 25 press release.

A large oil slick emanates from the MV Solomon Trader after it ran aground near Rennell Island on Feb. 5. The oil has contaminated the ecologically delicate area in the Solomon Islands. Image courtesy of DFAT.

A remote and sensitive area

The Solomon Islands is part of the marine biodiversity-rich Coral Triangle and has one of the world’s most important coral reef systems, home to 485 coral species and 1,019 fish species.

The MV Solomon Trader was loading bauxite in Kangava Bay from a mine located on western Rennell Island for export to China when violent weather generated by Cyclone Oma drove it onto a nearby reef. The vessel’s grounding caused extensive damage to its hull and fuel tanks, which were carrying some 700 metric tons (772 tons) of oil.

Rennell Island, one of the country’s outlying islands in its southern Rennell and Bellona Province, is geographically remote with little infrastructure and few services. The shipowner, Hong Kong-based King Trader Ltd., failed to respond quickly to the spill, and fuel continued to leak from the wreck for more than a month. King Trader claims that weather conditions remained too dangerous for salvage operations to start. On Feb. 16, the Solomon Islands requested help from the Australian government. By early March, the oil slick extended more than 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) along the island’s shoreline, according to news reports.

A two-week pollution control operation by a Solomon Islands and Australian team began March 7. Eleven days later, the Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) reported that salvage experts had stabilized the beleaguered ship and stopped the fuel leak. As of last week, booms were limiting the spread of oil into the deeper ocean, and a cleanup of the beaches and coastline was underway in partnership with local communities.

But the toll of the incident on the marine environment and human health is only just beginning to be tallied. Scientists report that oil spills can kill fish and invertebrates directly, while toxic compounds can curtail coral growth and reproduction and diminish coral and fish biodiversity.

There is no doubting the environmental sensitivity of the site of the shipping disaster. The southern third of Rennell Island, not far from Kangava Bay, comprising 370 square kilometers (143 square miles) of forest and a marine area extending 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) out to sea, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. Then, six years ago, the site, which provides habitat for 10 endemic plant species, 43 species of breeding land and water birds, and 730 species of insects, was red-flagged on the World Heritage in Danger List. UNESCO identified a number of threats to its status from logging activities on the western half of the island and invasive species introduced by logging and container ships, as well as climate change and the overexploitation of marine resources.

“The World Heritage Site is not affected by the spillage as the oil was mainly found in particular locations within the bay,” Horokou told Mongabay. Nevertheless, the Solomon Islands government has asked the United Nations to provide more independent environmental testing.

An Australian Embassy official surveys oil spill damage to the shoreline of Rennell Island. Image courtesy of Australian Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade.

Local food and water

In the meantime, the spill has affected local communities’ food and water security.

“From now, people will rely on rainwater for drinking and daily household use as their source of water is being contaminated,” Lawrence Nodua, a Solomon Islander volunteer with the U.K.-registered marine conservation NGO OceansWatch, told Mongabay. “Some families in Lavangu [village] in Kangava Bay are now running out of water.”

With almost no rainfall during the past month, people living in coastal villages near the spill are facing water shortages that could lead to a potential increase in cases of diarrhoea, according to the NDMO. Authorities have also warned them to stop eating locally caught fish and shellfish, critical components of their food supply.

Solomon Islands authorities say that the shipowner and its insurer are responsible for addressing the environmental damage, although the environment ministry has stated that further actions to hold specific entities accountable, and potentially seek compensation, will not occur until government investigations into the incident and the scale of damage are completed.

Nevertheless, early this month, King Trader, while claiming that matters of liability are yet to be determined, apologized in a public statement, saying that “the insurer and owner of the grounded MV Solomon Trader have offered a sincere apology to the people of the Solomon Islands following the bauxite carrier’s grounding.”

“My government is prepared to go as far as putting the companies on a blacklist internationally if they do not take on their responsibilities,” Solomon Islands Prime Minister Rick Houenipwela declared at a press conference March 7.

“The ecological footprint of the whole bay is already devastated with much of it unlikely to recover,” he added. “The impact on the marine life and the coral is already massive with much of it irreversible.”

A weak state

The Solomon Islands is still recovering and rebuilding following a devastating five-year civil conflict that started in the late 1990s. The country’s limited capacity and resources hamper its ability to respond fully to disasters, and it doesn’t have sufficient legal protection and legislative powers to follow through in holding international entities accountable for loss and damage.

The country is a vast archipelago of more than 900 islands spread over 854,000 square kilometers (330,000 square miles) with high exposure to earthquakes, cyclones and tsunamis. Government functions, such as coordinating a national response to disasters or overseeing the shipping industry and high-risk extractive activities like logging and mining, are hampered by limited transportation, unreliable communications and the absence of roads and infrastructure in many parts of the country.

Inadequate laws also leave the country vulnerable. Prime Minister Houenipwelahas already called for a review and reform of the country’s environmental and mining regulations, which do not provide for enforcing responsibility and securing compensation from companies involved in environmental destruction.

However, the country took a step in passing the Solomon Islands Maritime Authority Bill in August last year. The new legislation paves the way for setting up a regulatory organization mandated to develop nationwide shipping services and ensure compliance with international maritime laws. Currently, the Solomon Islands is not a signatory of key agreements, such as the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships.

The Indonesian mining company contracted to extract bauxite on Rennell Island that chartered the Solomon Trader, Bintan Mining Solomon Islands Ltd., has made no public statements in the wake of the spill. But mining ventures have a troubled history in Rennell and Bellona Province. Allegations of impropriety and irregularities in the awarding of a mining license to another Indonesian company active on the island, PT Mega Bintang Borneo Ltd., led to its license being revoked in 2014.

Extractive industries, and logging in particular, have been the focus of accusations of high-level corruption and environmental destruction in the Solomon Islands in recent decades. Political patronage of foreign companies, extensive kickbacks and the loss of revenue to hefty tax exemptions are well documented.

But unlike its experience in logging, the country has few operating mines and limited experience in managing them. In 2012, the Solomon Islands became a candidate for implementing the rigorous Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative Standard, but withdrew in June last year. The initiative reports that the country needs to significantly boost its legal and regulatory framework and ability to control mining production, exports and revenues to restart the process.

Meanwhile, local communities on Rennell Island remain in limbo. Unable to fish with their beaches polluted, they’re waiting to find out how serious the devastation is and what hope remains for environmental recovery.

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SI oil spill worse than first thought, say tanker owners

Oil spreads along the coastline of Rennell Island after spilling from the MV Solomon Trader.

A three-mile-long slick threatens Unesco World Heritage site

  • More than 70 tonnes of oil has been lost after MV Solomon Trader ran aground a month ago
  • With hundreds of tonnes of oil still inside ship, there are fears disaster could get worse

Karen Zhang  | South China Morning Post | 14 March, 2019

The oil spill from a Hong Kong-flagged tanker that is threatening to destroy marine life at a Unesco World Heritage site in the Solomon Islands is worse than first thought, its owner King Trader has said.

Bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader ran aground a month ago during bad weather near the remote Rennell Island in the South Pacific, home to the world’s largest raised coral atoll.

So far, more than 70 tonnes of oil has been dumped into the ocean, causing a three-mile slick in Kangava Bay which experts said was likely to cause long-term damage to the local ecosystem.

The ship ran into difficulties on February 5, while loading a cargo of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminium. In a statement on Thursday the vessel’s insurer said the spill might be more serious than expected.

An aerial view of the oil slick in Kangava Bay in the Solomon Islands.

“Although initial estimates indicated that some 70 tonnes of oil entered the water, it’s now believed that the escaped amount is higher, something that will be clarified as the response progresses,” Korea Protection and Indemnity Club, and King Trader, said.

The vessel’s owner said earlier it was transferring the remaining 600 tonnes on the vessel to safer tanks. As of Thursday, less than half of the remaining fuel oil – about 230 tonnes – had been transferred to a tank barge towed from Vanuatu.

The 225-metre vessel carried about 700 tonnes of fuel on board before the accident.

Hong Kong’s Marine Department said it was already in contact with the vessel’s owner about containing the spill, which sparked global concerns over the environmental disaster. The Australian government has sent specialised equipment and crew to help clean up the mess.

“The department has urged the shipowner to take all actions to minimise the pollution impact to the environment,” the department’s spokeswoman said.

“The salvage company engaged by the shipowner has been carrying out cleaning and pollution control operations in the casualty site for weeks, but the progress has been affected by the local weather and the remoteness of the island.”

The spokeswoman added that the department had been liaising with authorities in the region to assist the local government. It is also involved in a joint investigation into the accident.

Dr Stephen Li Yiu-kwong, a professor of maritime studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the city’s authorities needed to follow up on the incident as the vessel is registered in Hong Kong.

“It’s like if my son did some damage to your house,” he said. “As a parent, I also have the responsibility [to follow up].”

He said the department could punish the owners with a warning or suspension of their shipping licence if the company were found culpable for the spill.

The vessel was chartered by Indonesia-based Bintan Mining to take nearly 11,000 tonnes of bauxite from its mine on the western half of Rennell Island to China.

The shipowner apologised earlier last week for the slow salvage operation to stop oil from leaking further, saying the situation worsened with the arrival of Cyclone Oma, which pushed the stricken vessel harder into the reef.

A spokesman for the insurer and shipowner also told the Post the oil spill was because of structural damage to the vessel caused during the cyclone.

“Fuel oil escaped into the engine room and has leaked from a rupture in the hull,” he said.

In its latest statement, King Trader said it expected to complete the transfer of fuel in the “coming days”, but added that breaks could occur due to weather or equipment repairs.

Minor residual amounts of leaked oil have been detected entering the water because pumping and skimming operations in the flooded engine room, it added.

It reiterated that the salvage operation was difficult at such a remote and hazardous location, in addition to the lost of power of the vessel and the adverse weather, but said it would protect the environment as far as “practically possible”.

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Oil spill in the Solomon Islands reveals corrupt mining practices

Zach Fitzner | Earth.com | 12 March 2019

The Solomon Islands is a nation made up of hundreds of islands with a population of only 611,343 people.  Located in the Pacific region of Oceania to the east of Papua New Guinea and North of Vanuatu, the island nation is located in a remote location and importantly just south of the equator.  The official language is English and the decaying remains of battles from World War II mar the otherwise idyllic play of land and sea.

The oceans surrounding the island nation are part of the coral triangle, a 6 million square kilometer area sometimes also called the ‘Amazon of the seas’.  The Solomon Islands also boast the largest number of endemic and range restricted birds – birds found in very small areas of anywhere else on earth.  Part of the Solomon Islands, East Rennell is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, making up about a third of Rennell Island.  

Rennell is the largest raised atoll in the world, and the center of the island is made of brackish Lake Tegano, formerly a lagoon surrounded by dense tropical forest.  East Rennell is the first natural site that is customarily owned to be listed as a World Heritage Site. 10 endemic plants live on Rennell along with 11 bat species, 27 land snails, including 7 endemics, 43 species of bird breed there.  It is in the context of the irreplaceable biodiversity, wildness and beauty of Rennell that a nearby oil leak becomes a tragedy.

Radio New Zealand reported that on February 5th, 2019, a ship ran into a coral reef near Rennell, spilling oil.  The ship was carrying ore from a bauxite mine when it was pushed into the coral by a cyclone, causing the leak.  Bauxite is used in making aluminum, and the Bintang Mine that chartered the ship is located on the eastern side of Rennell Island.  

Rick Houenipwela, Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands, described the mine as immoral and paints a picture of exploitation.  He told ABC News that the mine pays very little in royalties or taxes, and the only benefit to the Solomon Islands coming from wages paid to workers.  The Prime Minister called for an investigation into why mining was allowed on Rennell Island to begin with and is considering halting their activities for the time being.  This isn’t the first time a mining company operating in the Solomon Islands has been accused of impropriety.

In 2017, The Guardian reported that Pacific Bauxite, an Australian mining company, was accused of coercing and bullying locals to obtain mining rights.  The company denied any wrong doings and said the people were very supportive of the mine’s work. The views of prospecting and mining in the communities where Pacific Bauxite was working were said by officials to be divided on proposals at the time.  Some land owners claimed they weren’t advised of the environmental impact of prospecting and mining on their land, others said they weren’t properly consulted. Signatures were gathered on blank pieces of paper to claim agreement to mining proposals. Some people claimed their signatures on paperwork were forged.  This type of exploitation and lack of responsibility on the part of a mining company is mirrored in the current tragedy.

Since February, the Hong Kong-flagged ship called the Solomon Trader has leaked 80 metric tonnes of heavy fuel oil that has dispersed into the sea and shore since hitting the reef.  Aerial footage shows that the oil has already spread over an area of 3.5 miles across Rennell’s coast, bringing it closer to the world heritage site. An additional 650 tonnes of oil remain on the ship, potentially threatening to spill.  The spill clean-up is already expected to cost $30-$50 million, and the shipping company has been quick to shirk responsibility, saying they were contracted to ship the bauxite, despite the government of the Solomon Islands stating that responsibility of cleanup and salvage rests with the companies involved.  The government of the Solomon Islands requested aid from Australia and both governments expressed regret over the slow commercial response.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a statement on March 5th, saying:

“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 more than six kilometers across the shore and is moving towards the adjacent World Heritage area. Without immediate action, there was the risk of the remaining heavy fuel oil on the vessel (currently estimated at over 600 tonnes) being released into the surrounding area… Given the ecological damage, and a lack of immediate action by commercial entities involved, the Solomon Islands government requested Australia’s assistance on 16 February.

Australia responded, supporting the Solomon Islands government by providing technical advice and assistance to inform government assessment and the response teams sent to the spill. Australia is also supporting the government in its dealings with the responsible entities. As requested by the Solomon Islands government, Australia will act as appropriate to minimize 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.”                                     

Oil had been leaking from the ship for a month and only recently stopped despite mitigation response from the Australian and Solomon Islands governments.  Australia expects to transfer its role in the clean up to the commercial entities involved in the spill on March 18th.

Australia has responded to the spill with technical advice as well as on the ground clean-up and monitoring crews.  Australia has also been credited with pressuring the ship owner, mining company and the ship’s insurer to take responsibility for the clean-up.  

Unfortunately, ABC news reports that much of the damage from the oil leak is irreversible.  The health and livelihood of locals as well as rare species will be impacted for at least the near future.  Hopefully, this relatively small but dangerous leak will spur the government of the Solomon Islands to looking closer at extraction industries in their nation as well as environmental regulations and responses.

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Filed under Corruption, Environmental impact, Solomon Islands

Companies in Solomons ship disaster could be forced to shut down

The MV Solomon Trader stuck on a reef off of Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands is leaking oil into the ocean. February 2019. Photo: Australian High Commission

Radio New Zealand | 8 March 2019

The Solomon Islands caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou says the government is looking again at the lease for bauxite mining operator, APID and its associate BinTan Mining Solomon Islands.

This comes after the environmental destruction caused by a bauxite carrier running aground in Kangava Bay on Rennell Island, which led to 100 tonnes of heavy fuel oil flowing into the bay.

Mr Hou said both mining companies, along with the shipping company, are responsible for the clean-up.

Furthermore he said the mining companies may be barred from Rennell.

“The decision on the company mining lease and development consent will be done when all assessments I have instructed have been completed,” he said.

“We have laws in this country and regardless of the inadequacies in some areas they still form the basis upon which decisions relating to the mining lease and development consent must be addressed.”

Mr Hou said Solomon Islands has earned little from the more than 64 loads of bauxite ore that have been shipped off Rennell since the mine started operations.

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