On Tuesday 5 February, a bauxite bulk carrier, the 'Solomon Trader', carrying over 700 tonnes of heavy fuel oil ran aground in Solomon Islands' Rennell and Bellona Province. The vessel is located in Kangava Bay, Rennell Island, home to a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Aerial assessments conducted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) on behalf of the Solomon Islands government confirmed extensive oil leakage around the ship, dispersing across the surrounding sea and shoreline.
The Solomon Islands government has advised that responsibility to salvage the vessel and mitigate the environmental impact of this incident rests with the commercial entities involved, in particular the vessel owner, King Trader Ltd, and its Insurer Korea P&I Club.
Australian Government assistance
Given the ecological damage, and a lack of immediate action by commercial entities involved, the Solomon Islands government requested Australia's assistance on 16 February.
Australia responded, supporting the Solomon Islands government by providing technical advice and assistance to inform government assessments and the response to the spill. Australia is also supporting the government in its dealings with the responsible entities. As requested by the Solomon Islands government, Australia will act, as appropriate, to minimise the impacts of the spill while ensuring we do not diminish in any way the fundamental obligations of responsible parties to properly contain and manage this incident.
On 1 March, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon Marise Payne, announced Australia's mobilisation of a targeted, two-week pollution mitigation and remediation sweep.
The operation, which commenced on 7 March, involves the deployment of specialised equipment and vessels from Australia and Honiara. An eight person spill response crew from AMSA has been deployed, together with a Paramedic and a liaison officer from Emergency Management Australia. In addition, further vessels, specialist equipment and personnel from Australia have been deployed, including embedded personnel from Maritime New Zealand. Efforts are focused on targeted oil spill mitigation and remediation activities offshore in Kangava Bay.
A salvage consultant contracted by the responsible commercial entities has commenced operations. Removal of heavy fuel oil from the vessel is underway. Recent aerial assessments conducted by AMSA on behalf of the Solomon Islands Government have indicated reducing signs of fresh oil in the water.
Australia expects to hand its component of the operation over to the responsible commercial entities by 21 March. Australia will continue to provide technical support and advice to the Solomon Islands Government after this time.