A salvage operation is underway more than three weeks after the MV Solomon Trader ran aground on a reef in the Solomon Islands while loading bauxite on the remote island of Rennell during tropical cyclone Oma.
People are being warned to stay away from the “toxic” oil spill.
Sixty tonnes of oil is estimated to have already spilled with another 600 tonnes still in the tanks of the leaking ship.
Australia is assisting the Solomon Islands government with the salvage and clean-up after a plea for help from care-taker prime minister Ric Hou.
“Australia is extremely concerned at the scale of this disaster, the impact of this oil spill will have a devastating effect on the surrounding environment, including potentially on a protected UNESCO World Heritage site, as well as the livelihood of the people of Rennell,” Australian High Commissioner Rod Brazier in the capital Honiara told a local briefing of journalists.
A Solomon Island National Disaster Council situation report said there is a “lack of in-country capacity to deal with a potential environmental disaster of this magnitude” and that “the primary responsibility to salvage and mitigate any spill rests with the charterer of the ship and the ship owners”.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has updated its travel advice for Solomon Islands warning “reconsider your need to travel” to Rennell because “heavy fuel oil is a toxic substance and you should avoid exposure to it”.
Island residents fear the complex salvage operation means Rennell will suffer serious long-term damage.
“Oil spill makes it impossible to fish or bathe in the sea, oil is still leaking, people are worried, “ Derek Pongi from the Tehakatuu tribe on Rennell told SBS.
“Loading of bauxite is still on in the bay. (We’re) calling on the company to halt loading.”