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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