PM asks Australia for help
By LESLEY SANGA
OIL have started spilling from a vessel that run aground on the shores of east Rennell early this month.
MV Solomon Trader had been loading bauxite from Bintan’s mining operation on the island when rough seas pushed it aground at Kangava Bay, on the night of 4 February.
Bad weather in the last two weeks had prevented the mining company from salvaging the vessel.
Villagers said they’ve started seeing oil spilling out of the ship’s engine room since last Friday.
Derek Pongi of Saumgei village said when they realised the oil spill he contacted Bintan.
“The mining company admitted oil has been spilling from the ship, but they are yet to do anything about it,” Pongi said.
When contacted yesterday, Bintan officers kept referring our reporter to different people and were unable to provide any useful comments.
Meanwhile, Guardian Australia last night reported that caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hou has asked Australia for emergency help to clean up a likely environmental disaster in the wake of the oil spill.
Situational reports seen by the Guardian say “heavy fuel oil/black oil could be smelt from 800 metres” from the vessel.
“Discoloured brown water was observed in the lagoon approximately 600 metres south east.”
The report said the vessel was un-seaworthy to proceed anywhere under its own power and would have to be towed.
“Indications are that the oil leak gets worse at low tide. At low tide the oil is going directly onto the exposed reef,” the report said.
Category 2 cyclone Oma and rough weather have delayed efforts to salvage the ship.
Yesterday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was preparing a Hercules C130 military plane with clean-up gear, and a naval ship with equipment was also likely to be diverted.
Australia has sent a surveillance plane to the site.
Earlier yesterday, a Solomon Islands government source told the Guardian salvage crews and oil spill response teams were heading to Rennell Island from Honiara.
“The weather has moderated,” the source said.
“The sea is still running very heavily and it’s diffusing the oil, it’s leaking at a low rate. It’s starting to spread as slick.”
He said there was gas oil and heavy fuel oil on the ship.
National Disaster Management Office and Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Administration officials had urgent talks with Hou yesterday.
“Nothing has been done for the past two weeks because of the weather, but now the weather has eased down, we can get people across,” a spokesman for the maritime administration said.
The Oceans Watch Solomon Islands spokesman, Lawrence Nodua, said there was likely to be significant reef damage.
“The area is an important fishing ground for local villagers,” he told the Guardian.
Pongi told the Solomon Star last night they are worried about their shoreline.
He urged Bintan to act quickly to avoid a disaster.