10 May 2019

Solomon Islands to refloat ship after oil spill

4:36 pm on 10 May 2019

Efforts will begin on Saturday in Solomon Islands to refloat a wrecked ship at the centre of an environmental disaster.

MV Solomon Trader oil spill on Rennell Island, Solomon Islands.

MV Solomon Trader oil spill on Rennell Island, Solomon Islands. Photo: The Australian High Commission Solomon Islands

Since early February, bulk carrier, Solomon Trader, has been wedged on a reef off Rennell Island, where it has spilled an estimated 100 tonnes of oil.

The spill happened near a protected marine area and poisoned local water supplies and fishing grounds, sparking an international outcry.

More than three months on, the Solomon Islands Disaster Management Office said the vessel will be refloated and towed from the reef.

Its director, Loti Yates, said the process, which is being led by a salvager contracted by the shipowner's insurer, will take around three days.

"It is a huge and very, very difficult operation," he said.

Mr Yates added that cleanup efforts which began in March are ongoing, with oil still coating the shoreline of the nearby and once pristine Kangava Bay.

He added that all oil onboard the ship had been removed but based on ship records there was an unknown amount missing.

"Maybe they evaporated, maybe they just sailed away or sunk into the bottom of the ocean. Not sure yet."

Mr Yates said investigations by the Solomon Islands government into the disaster had been obstructed by a missing data drive taken from the ship by its owner.

He said requests for the data - which is too big to transfer online - to be sent physically had gone unanswered for the past three weeks.

"We are sort of frustrated but we are still hoping that it will arrive."

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