A major anti-pollution operation was launched in the Solomon Islands after the bulk carrier Solomon Trader, 73,592dwt, with a cargo of bauxite, ran aground in bad weather in Kangava Bay on Rennell Island, near the biggest raised coral atoll in the world, a UNESCO World Heritage area.
The ship, owned by King Trader Ltd, of Hong Kong, was on charter to Bintan Mining, of Indonesia, and had loaded nearly 11,000 tonnes of bauxite when she went aground on Feb 5.
Her owners chartered a local tug to try and refloat the bulk carrier, which had 700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil on board but the situation worsened with the arrival of Cyclone Orna on Feb 10, which pushed the ship harder onto the reef and resulted in damage to the hull and engine room and the escape of fuel oil.
The remote and hazardous location made it difficult to obtain local resources. In addition, the local airstrip meant that heavy equipment, including pumps and generators, had to complete the final leg of their journey by sea and the bad weather made it difficult to board the ship.
Marise Payne, the Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs said that due to a “lack of action by commercial entities”, the Solomon Islands Government asked the Australian Government for assistance to deal with the oil spill and the escalating ecological damage.
The Australian Government quickly responded with equipment, vessels and specialised personnel under the leadership of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), working alongside the island’s government.
Towards the end of February, the Australian Minister said: “The oil covers five to six km across the shore and is moving towards the adjacent World Heritage area. There was a high risk that the remaining heavy fuel oil on board the ship, over 600 tonnes, will be released into the surrounding area.”
In an update of the situation on Mar 4, AMSA said its aerial assessments confirmed that 75 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from the ship had dispersed across the sea and shoreline, contaminating the ecologically delicate area.
A few days later, some onboard power was restored to the ship enabling a deck crane to lift salvage equipment on board. The Solomon Islands Government issued a wreck removal order as the operation to lighten the ship of fuel oil continued.
Half of the remaining fuel oil, about 230 tonnes, had now been transferred to the barge but the weather may delay this operation.