BIG DISASTER - Solomon Star News

BIG DISASTER
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04 March 2019
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Thick crude oil from the Solomon Trader vessel on the surface of the sea at Lughu Bay in West Rennell. [Photo: Carlos Aruafu]


Oil spill affects people’s livelihood

By CARLOS ARUAFU


THE oil spill from the ship, Solomon Trader which was loading Bauxite at the Lughu Bay in West Rennell has had a big impact on the lives of villagers.

Solomon Trader ran aground at Lughu Bay while loading bauxite during a strong wind on February 4th.

A visit by the Solomon Star to the site over the weekend has seen first-hand, the current issue on site.

The communities around Lughu bay with an estimated population of more than 300 people residing along the coast of the bay will no longer be able to have fresh fish for food for an unknown length of time.

Villagers residing around the affected area said they missed having fresh fish for food and wonder how long it will take before things are back to normal.

Chief Raymond Sau of Avatai village in West Rennell told the Solomon Star that since the oil spill occurred, they never tasted fresh fish from the sea from fears of fish poisoning as a result from oil spilll.

“The fishermen stopped fishing because of dirty water,” he said.

Fish are been sighted floating on the sea surface over the past days.

“We have not tasted a single fish from the sea since the oil spill.

“We cannot go fishing for fears of fish poisoning and the sea is also very dirty.

“We also advised our children not go out for a swim as the sand on the beaches are covered with oil,” he said.

Not only did they missed their daily fishing practice but also missed getting fresh water from the streams that are right at the sea shores.

“The opening of streams at the seas shores have been covered with oil so we cannot get fresh water to drink.

“These streams are our only hope for fresh water when we experience dry seasons.

“It’s been a week without rain but luckily the mining company helps in providing water but we don’t know how long it will take to get such assistance,” Chief Sau added.

Villagers also experienced tough time sleeping at night because of the odious smell from the spilt oil

“During the day it’s okay but when night comes, we have hard time breathing due to the bad smell from the spilled oil.

“Some people including children have fallen sick due to this odious smell,” he said.

Chief Sau stressed all they want is for the Government to speed up work to clean up their sea and shores so they can get their lives back to normalcy.

Lughu Bay hosts one of the country’s conservation sites, which contributes to a large part of the marine ecosystem in the country.

The unfortunate incident has affected seafood for an estimated 300 more people residing in the Lughu Bay.

An estimated 80 plus gallons of oil has been spilled over the past days.

On site, the Solomon Star was being informed that signs of diesel from the ship are also starting to spill into the sea.

The spilled oil is of great dangers to marine life and there are fears the oil would reach East Rennell, the largest raised coral atoll in the world and a world heritage site.

Meanwhile, a statement from the Government Communication Unit yesterday said efforts to control leaking oil from a grounded vessel at Lavagu port on Rennell Island is continuing with more overseas experts now on the ground as the National Government closely monitors the salvage operation.

It was estimated that around 80 tons of oil has been leaking from the M.V. Solomon Trader since it was grounded on February 4 in bad weather conditions.

The Hong Kong based vessel was loading Bauxite for the Bintan Mining Solomon Islands (BMSI) when the incident happened.

Initial attempts to salvage the vessel was hampered by bad weather and followed by damages caused by looting activities to the vessels.

Oil leakage from the vessel has started on February 15 and currently ongoing as the Leakage point is yet to be located and resolved to prevent further oil spills.

Four weeks on from the vessel’s grounding, the ship-owner and Bintan Mining Solomon Islands (BMSI) continue to bring in overseas experts to carry out salvage operations to remove oil from the vessel.

The Solomon Islands Government has established an On-site Coordination Centre (OSOCC) at Lavagu in Rennell, led by SIMSA and supported by the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) with National Support Deployments (NSD) being undertaken by Officers from various key Government Agencies.

The Owner of MV Solomon Trader through its Insurers (Hull & Machineries (PICC), and Korea Protection & Indemnity Club (KP&I) have engaged Salvagers to assess and managed the vessel and its contents and gearing towards the removal of hydrocarbons (Fuel and Lubricants) and provision of other related services as the situation modifies.

The Solomon Islands Government after assessing its capacity to handle has activated its tier 3 response plans as per the National Contingency Oil Spill Plan by requesting the Australian Government for support in prepositioning experts and oil spill management equipment on stand-by assistance to SIG in the case the situation escalates.

The Marine accident is the first of its kind to happen in the remote Rennell-Bellona Province and has highlighted some significant challenges to the Government which included issues relating to the limited domestic technical capacity in dealing with the situation and limited resources for deployment of the OSOCC,

The latest report has made a recommendation which demanded the Vessel owner and KP&I to submit their oil spill and removal response plan to the Solomon Islands Government.

The report further recommends the National Government to maintain its operational objectives to ship owners to remove and safely treat the heavy fuel oil and other hydrocarbons from the vessel and to conduct an environmental cleanup and remove the wreck.

While the salvage operations are continuing, the report also recommended SIMSA to continue with marine investigation, take leadership role in the management of the Marine Accident of MV Solomon Trader and issue a wreck removal order to the vessel owners.

It also recommends the Environment and Conservation Division to conduct detailed environmental assessment of the impacts of the vessel, fuel and cargo on the biophysical environment and communities while the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources to carry out their assessment of the impacts of the grounded vessel and oil on fisheries, and subsequent impacts on local communities.

 

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