Tag Archives: Bintan Mining

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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Solomon’s PM urged to impose duty on APID  

MV Solomon Trader oil spill on Rennell Island, Solomon Islands. Photo: The Australian High Commission Solomon Islands


Ian M. Kaukui | Solomon Star | 25 September 2019

PRIME Minister Manasseh Sogavare has been urged to revoke the 100% tax exemption duty granted to the bauxite miners on Rennell island, Renbel Province.

The bauxite mine is owned by Chinese logger APID Ltd, which had contracted Hong Kong-based company Bintan Mining, to carry out the operation.

Local activist Lawrence Makili said if the Government is looking for money to fill its coffers, Prime Minister Sogavare must remove the duty exemption the miner has been granted.

“There are lots of areas we can earn our own money as a country if we are led by responsible leaders,” Makili stated.

“These include using our own resources to stimulate economic developments and one of them is the imposing the right tax on foreign businesses operating here,” he added.

“Yet, we see a foreign investor coming in and get our resources freely out of the country.”

Makili said the resources belong to the country and it should be utilised for its economic benefits.

He said despite the call being made previously, the Government continues to allow the miner to enjoy the exemption, much to the loss of this country.

In his speech at the recent Australia-Solomon Islands Business Forum, Sogavare said the government through the Ministry of Finance and Treasury is now working on a tax policy review.

“The Government is opened to inputs and dialogue in this area and will bring to Parliament the Tax Administration Bill, Customs and Exercise Bill and Value Added Tax Bill,” he said.

He said this is not going to happen in this year’s meeting but in 2020 Parliament meeting.

Sogavare said he is also conscious of how tax regime is affecting the private sector especially after Solomon Islands Tobacco Company (SITCO) and Solomon Breweries Ltd (Solbrew) paid him a courtesy visit. 

“We had a very informative and fruitful discussion and it was really interesting to hear their views with regards to excise taxes, and how they can assist in working together with the Government to ensure a win-win situation for all. 

“After this discussion, I realised that our tax regime in this instance has resulted in the government losing out millions of dollars. I have since instructed my staff to work closely with other relevant ministries to address look at other options,” he added.

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No Export Permit Yet For SI Miner 

Solomon Star | 11 July 2019

TWO leading landowners of Axiom Mining Limited’s mining lease site on San Jorge in Isabel Province, Sam Pitu and Janet Voda, have questioned why the government keeps refusing to grant an export permit to the Australian mining company to ship out its nickel ore products to its United States-based buyer Traxys.

In a joint statement, Pitu and Voda said the repeated refusal by the Minerals Board has become more and more intolerable to landowners as it denies them their rights to enjoy benefits from the exportation of nickel ore extracted from their land,” Pitu said on Wednesday.

“The continued delays and denial of an export permit for Axiom by the Minerals Board also denies us of our rights to benefit from revenues that would have come from the exportation of nickel ore from our land,” he added

“The action by the Board is indeed mind-boggling because Axiom has fully complied with the relevant mining laws and regulations of the country in its operation on San Jorge and with good mining practices and yet its export permit application continues to be rejected whilst giving some unscrupulous Chinese companies the go-ahead to mine in the country and export their products.

“Just look at the case of the controversial Bintan mining company which continues to mine bauxite from Renell despite its perceived non-compliance with the country’s mining laws and regulations. 

“In February this year, the company caused an environmental disaster because of its reckless decision to allow its cargo carrier to load bauxite in cyclonic weather.

“And last week, just six months on from the oil spill, the company ran into another disaster when its bauxite carrier barge capsized during a loading operation releasing 5,000 tonnes of ore into the waters of Kangava Bay.”

Pitu added: “Bintan’s continued operation in Rennell despite the two environmental disasters it caused through reckless decisions brings into question why the government continues to entertain such companies in the country and denies genuine investors of the legislative support they need to carry on with their operations.”

Adding on to Pitu’s sentiments, Voda said the government needs to exercise fairness in its dealing with foreign investors and to deal with them within the bounds of Solomon Islands laws.

She said the bribery claims made against Bintan in the media should be matters of serious concern to Solomon Islanders because it somehow implies that the company could be bribing government officials to go ahead with its operation despite its non-compliance with the country’s mining and environmental laws and good mining practices.

Bintan yesterday issued a statement denying the bribery claim.

Voda said the government’s delay in granting an export permit to Axiom when it has granted the company with a mining lease is totally nonsensical because a mining company cannot extract minerals without having to export them.

She said the landowners need money to improve their welfare, Isabel Provincial Government needs money to provide services to the people of the province and Solomon Islands needs money to improve its economic base and yet the national government has deliberately ignored the millions of dollars stockpiled on San Jorge in the form of nickel ore awaiting a government permit to be exported.

Comments are being sought from the mining board.

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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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Environmental Toll of Solomon Islands’ Oil Spill Still Being Calculated

An Australian Embassy official surveys oil spill damage to the shoreline of Rennell Island.

Catherine Wilson | Mongabay / Solomon Times | 3 July 2019

An international effort to halt a massive oil spill from a wrecked ship in a far-flung province of the Solomon Islands 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 calculated.

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 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.

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 diarrhea, 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 former 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. 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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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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