Mon, Mar 04, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Canberra sends help for Solomon Islands oil spill

WORLD HERITAGE SITE:Australia said that inaction ‘by commercial entities involved’ was among the reasons for its assistance, but it would help to hold them to account

Reuters, SYDNEY

Australia is sending more help to the Solomon Islands to stop oil from a grounded cargo ship destroying a World Heritage-listed marine sanctuary, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said yesterday.

At least 75 tonnes of heavy fuel oil has spilled from Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier Solomon Trader since Cyclone Oma drove it onto a reef at Rennell Island on Feb. 5.

The ship was carrying 700 tonnes of oil when it ran aground and there are fears that the remaining fuel could spoil Rennell, the world’s largest raised coral atoll and home to many species found nowhere else.

“Australia remains extremely concerned by the ongoing risk of a major oil spill,” Payne said in a release.

“Up to 75 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from the ship has dispersed across the Island’s sea and shoreline, contaminating the ecologically delicate area,” the statement said. “Given escalating ecological damage, and a lack of action by commercial entities involved, the Solomon Islands Government has requested Australia’s assistance.”

Australia would send equipment, vessels and experts under the leadership of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, Payne said.

The eastern half of Rennell was the first natural property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List with customary management and is home to 1,200 Polynesians who live by subsistence farming, hunting and fishing, the UNESCO Web site says.

With its unique limestone formations, a large lake and dense forest, the site is “a true natural laboratory for scientific study,” the UN body says.

UNESCO listed East Rennell as “in danger” in 2013 for threats posed by commercial logging of its forests for export to China and the introduction of rats.

Indonesian firm Bintan Mining SI chartered the Solomon Trader to take bauxite from its mine on the western half of Rennell to China. Bintan Mining could not immediately be reached for comment.

The bulk carrier ran aground while loading bauxite during a cyclone, Radio New Zealand reported.

Oil had leaked for 6km across the shore, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on its Web site on Thursday.

“There is a high risk remaining heavy fuel oil on the vessel [currently estimated at over 600 tonnes] will be released into the surrounding area,” the department said. “Australia is supporting the Solomon Islands government to hold the responsible commercial entities to account.”

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