Tag Archives: Solomon islands

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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Anger after Solomon Islands miner involved in spill gets new licence

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

Radio New Zealand | 22 March 2019 

Transparency Solomon Islands says it’s concerned about new mining licences to a company at the centre of an environmental disaster.

The licences given to Bintan Mining Solomon Islands are under fire amid a cleanup of an estimated 100 tonnes of its oil spilled into a marine reserve.

Since a ship contracted by Bintan grounded on a reef off Rennell Island in early February, the company has faced widespread criticism.

But on 8 March, just one day after Prime Minister Rick Hou threatened to put it on an international blacklist, Bintan was issued two mine prospecting licences.

The licences, which were confirmed by the Director of Mines, Nicholas Biliki, are in the islands of Isabel and San Jorge in Isabel province.

Transparency Solomon Islands said Bintan’s licences should be revoked because of the damage done on Rennell.

“Why issue the Licence to a company we know how incapable and irresponsible the company is when it comes to risk sharing of benefits, management and capacity to deal with any disaster,” the NGO said in a statement.

Meanwhile, officials estimate it will take at least two months to salvage the grounded ship.

Mr Biliki declined to be interviewed on Thursday but said he would issue a statement to local media.

The Mining Minister, Bradley Tovosia, appeared to have disconnected his office phone after repeated calls from RNZ Pacific.

Officials estimate it will take at least two months to salvage the ship, the MV Solomon Trader, with the spill contained only this week.

Clean up efforts after the oil spill off Rennell Island in Solomon Islands. Photo: Supplied/ Derek Pongi

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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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