Tag Archives: Solomon islands

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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Solomons’ gold mine to launch ‘world class’ redevelopment

Empty trucks at the Gold Ridge mine

Radio New Zealand | 23 October 2019 

A closed Solomon Islands’ gold mine is set to be officially relaunched this weekend.

The troubled Gold Ridge Mine, which has changed ownership multiple times over the years, has been closed since 2015.

It is now being redeveloped by the Chinese-owned Australian developer AXF Group in partnership with local landowners in Central Guadalcanal.

The full details of the reconstruction by the China Railway International Group is expected to be announced during a ground-breaking ceremony on Saturday, the Solomon Star reports.

Gold Ridge senior official, Allen Wang, said he believed China Railway had the mining experience, construction expertise and Pacific experience to make a great contribution to the development of a world class mine in Solomon Islands.

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Axiom sues Tovosia and Solomon Islands mining board 

Solomon Star | 3 October 2019

AXIOM Mining Limited (AML) says it has initiated legal proceedings at the High Court over the government’s handling of its export permit application.

General Manager Dr Phil Tagini said they’ve filed a claim for judicial review against the decision of the Minerals Board, as well as a misfeasance claim against the Minister of Mines Bradley Tovosia and Director of Mines Nicholas Biliki for failing to properly exercise their powers under Regulations 70 and 71 of the Mines and Minerals Regulations pertaining to the company’s export permit application. 

“Furthermore there are subsequent requests for materials by the Ministry of Mines which the law does not require for the consideration of an export permit,” Tagini explained.

He said the application has met the requirements of the Mines and Minerals (MM) regulations and thus the company should have been granted an export permit to ship out its nickel ore products to its United States-based buyer, Traxys.

However, Tagini said Minister Tovosia in a letter dated July 18 this year informed Axiom that the Minerals Board following its extra-ordinary meeting on July 5, had decided to reject the company’s export permit application on the basis that it did not possess a business licence from the Isabel Provincial Government (IPG). 

The Board had maintained that this is a requirement even though it is not required in the Act or Regulations. 

Tagini explained that Axiom’s non-possession of a business licence was not deliberate on its part but was rather due to failure of the Isabel Provincial Government to respond positively to its numerous applications and attempts to obtain a business licence.

He said Axiom has come to a stage where it could no longer tolerate the overreach of the Board and must bring the matter for an independent interpretation by the Courts.  

He added Axiom’s nickel mine project on San Jorge is projected to contribute up to 15 to 20 percent of Solomon Islands Gross Domestic Product (GDP) when in the full exportation phase. 

“We are surprised that with the current state of our economy that a company that has been granted a Mining Lease and has been mining for a year is being refused to export their ores for reasons that we believe are not according to law. 

“We have complied with all requirements under the law so it is very concerning to us that this situation is preventing more employment opportunities for Solomon Islanders and much needed tax revenues into our government coffers.   

“It is unfortunate that every citizen and the landowner and our loyal suppliers have to suffer for this poor governance. 

“Axiom is left with no other option but to have the matter rectified in the courts,” Tagini said.

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Debt-trap diplomacy: China secures Gold Ridge Mine in Solomon Islands

Previous facilities constructed at Gold Ridge Mine (Photo from Concrete Evidence)

China Railways loans Honiara US$825 million to construct and lease gold mine facilities through 2034

Duncan DeAeth | Taiwan News | 20 September 2019

Following the break of diplomatic ties between the Solomon Islands and Taiwan on Sept. 16, it has come to light that China Railway Group Ltd. has signed a US$825 million dollar deal with Honiara to build and lease a railway system and mining service station.

The deal was signed on Sept. 12, and the contract is set to last until March 2034, according to reports. In line with China’s usual strategy of dollar diplomacy, the money for the contract will come in the form of loans and will contribute significantly to the Solomon Islands’ national debt over the next 15 years.

The deal was inked with China Railway International Group, a wholly owned subsidiary of China Railway Group. According to CNA, China Railway International announced the deal on its website’s notice board on the date it was signed, with parent company China Railway Group announcing it on the Sept. 16., the day the Solomon Islands and Taiwan officially broke ties.

The proposed infrastructure project will be constructed in the interior of Guadalcanal Island to serve the Gold Ridge Mine, which at the height of its production in 2012 accounted for 20 percent of the country’s entire gross domestic product. The mine has only been in operation since 1998, but over the past two decades, mining has been regularly stalled by social unrest, environmental disasters, and financial scandals involving former owners.

The mine, which is currently the property of a local landowning company, Gold Ridge Community Investment Limited, was considered a “disaster area” by Honiara after a damn collapsed in 2015. The contract and lease agreement between Honiara and Beijing reportedly only cost China Railways .78 percent of its total 2018 revenue.

According to CNA, the contract signed by Honiara and China Railways involves two major phases. The first phase includes an exterior mountain-stripping project followed by the installation of interior mining equipment and facilities. The second phase includes the construction of roads, bridges, and a nearby reservoir along with dock facilities and a hydropower station.

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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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New Solomon Islands govt prioritises mining reforms

MV Solomon Trader oil spill on Rennell Island, Solomon Islands. Feb. 2019. Photo: The Australian High Commission Solomon Islands

Radio New Zealand | 8 May 2019 

Solomon Islands prime minister Manasseh Sogavare says his new government is prioritising productive sector reforms including new mining legislation.

Mr Sogavare told the Solomon Star the decision was taken in light of the country having recently been caught in a very awkward situation over mining issues.

Earlier this year a cargo ship ran aground on a reef off of Rennell while trying to load bauxite from a mine on the island.

It eventually spilled hundreds of tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the ocean causing one of the worst man made disasters in Solomon Islands in recent times.

The whole saga has revealed inadequacies in Solomon Islands mining law when it comes to holding mining companies accountable for environmental disasters caused by their operations.

In the Rennell case, the mining company Bintan Mining continues to deny liability for the spill and has said it would be suing the ship’s owner.

Manasseh Sogavare said his government is committed to delivering new legislation for the mining sector as part of a larger aim to build a broad-based and environmentally sustainable economy.

Mr Sogavare said he hopes the new law will create a robust and conducive local mining sector that can attract good investors.

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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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Mining destroying land and wrecking locals’ health in Solomon Islands

The stricken Solomon Trader

Michael Morrah | Newshub | 1 April 2019

Residents living near a UN world heritage site in the Solomon Islands say mining is destroying their island’s environment and heritage, but they feel powerless to prevent it.

Oil from a grounded mining ship has spoiled beaches and reefs on Rennell Island, and some residents say their children have suffered fevers and skin irritations.

Resolve Salvage Master Stewart Miller says the daily journey by salvage experts to the stricken Solomon Trader includes “people from the United States, UK, Spain and Portugal” all helping to vacuum up oil that’s still on the vessel.

They’re also training locals to help them clean up the blackened beaches.

It’s easy to see why the damage to this marine environment will be so significant.

Old sheets of plastic covered in thick, tacky heavy fuel oil from the Solomon Trader, show how the oil attaches to the reef below.

At low tide the evidence of that is clear, rocks and coral smothered by oil.

But not all impacts are quite so noticeable; rainwater tanks, even those high on the cliffs above the vessel, are not safe.

This causes some of the most vulnerable, like Abatai resident Ileen Tonga’s children becoming ill with “fever, red eye, diarrhoea and headache.”

Further up the road from the grounding is Lake Tegano, where families bathe and catch fish, and children play.

It’s a world heritage site and UNESCO says oil hasn’t reached here, but it’s yet to send anyone to do actual testing.

Chinese firm Bintan Mining got approval to mine the area in 2014.

Local teacher Sina Zeal says the firm offered landowners 20,000 Solomon Island Dollars, or $3,600 New Zealand dollars to dig up their family gardens, which many accepted and now regret.

“They are taking out our soil, land, our heritage, everything. That $20,000 (Solomon Island dollars) is nothing compared to the soil they take.”

She says attempts at taking legal action have failed.

“We’re fighting against the government. They won’t do anything.”

Incredibly, amid the current crisis, the Government has given Bintan two more prospecting licences on different islands.

The Minister in charge refused to talk about it saying he was busy with the elections.

The Government’s said it’s getting “virtually no economic return from the mining, describing that as “immoral and unacceptable”, but it’s done nothing yet to halt operations.

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