A full month since the cargo ship, Solomon Trader, was blown aground during a cyclone as it was attempting to load Bauxite at Rennell Island in the Solomon Islands, the vessel continues to hemorrhage heavy fuel oil from the huge gash torn into its side from the island’s coral reef.
Thus far, approximately 80 tons of the heavy petroleum product has spilled into the surrounding pristine, blue waters that skirt the world’s largest raised coral atoll. The 738-foot Hong Kong-flagged vessel is believed to have an additional 650 tons onboard.
The expanding oily tar is floating on the surface of Kangava Bay and continues to spread. It has covered everything on the white beaches in black sludge and has contaminated the freshwater springs that over 300 of the Islanders in the immediate area rely on for their drinking water. Islanders in the area report having to collect rainwater to drink.
The spreading spill has greatly impacted the inhabitants along the coast who rely on the seafood for their subsistence diet that is now contaminated. Islanders say that the Solomon Island government has banned all fishing in the area.
While the vessel was chartered by Bitan Mining Company to haul bauxite used in aluminum production, the Solomon Island government says that the responsibility for the spill lies with the ship’s owner King Trader Ltd and its insurer Korea P&I Club.
One month after the initial grounding and spill, Korea P&I states that “matters of liability are yet to be determined,” and on Wednesday, expressed deep remorse from the insurer and the vessel owner.
The insurer has also stated that inclement weather has hampered their ability to send divers down to do an external inspection of the hull and says that that is holding up salvage operations.
Australia was initially asked for technical assistance by the Solomon Island government but has now begun deploying clean-up teams as the situation escalates.
The spill is slowly spreading towards East Rennell on the southern portion of the island. That area of the island is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site which contains Lake Tegano, a large, former coral lagoon.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says it is disappointed with the slow cleanup response and also states that there is a high risk that the remaining oil in the vessel will spill out into the surrounding waters.
Bauxite mining and shipping has continued unabated throughout the disaster.