'Devastating' Impacts Feared as Oil Spill Threatens UNESCO Heritage Site in Pacific
"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," Australia's High Commissioner to the Solomon Islands Rod Brazier said in a statement.
The ship, which was chartered by Indonesian mining company Bintan Solomon Islands, was carrying a load of bauxite — a stone used in aluminum production — when it ran aground on Rennell Island Feb. 5. Since then, oil has slowly leaked out of the ship into the surrounding waters.
1/2 After cargo ship Solomon Trader ran aground in Rennell Island, Solomon Islands, it leaked at least 75 tonnes of… https://t.co/rNaohMpWUy— Copernicus EU (@Copernicus EU)1551452122.0
A slow-motion environmental disaster in the Pacific: a ship grounded on Feb 5 has leaked more than 80 tons of oil i… https://t.co/Tk28QlxKZM— Richard Pearshouse (@Richard Pearshouse)1551430506.0
The disaster is unfolding next to the southern third of the island, known as East Rennell Island, which makes up the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
Bintan has abdicated any legal responsibility for the spill, claiming that it was only the chartering company and thus had no liability for the crash. The ship's operator, King Trader Ltd., sent a team to salvage the ship, according to the Associated Press.
Yet Bintan has continued loading operations in the bay where the ship ran aground, stirring up the oil and making the problem worse, The Guardian reported.
"Bauxite extraction and loading is continuing in the bay," a source in the islands told the paper. "That is further churning up the oil."
New Zealand and Australia sent teams to help with the cleanup and salvage operations. Press reports said that 75 tons of fuel have spilled into the ocean already while 600 tons of oil remain on board.
The Guardian's source in the Solomon Islands, however, said those efforts were, at best, overstated.
"All of the evidence indicates very little prospect of imminent action that would involve getting the oil off the vessel and preventing the ongoing spill," said the source.
AP reporting concurred with that assessment.
Footage taken this week shows little progress has been made in stopping the Solomon Trader ship from leaking oil since it ran aground Feb. 5, according to the Australian High Commission in the Solomon Islands.
Greenpeace Australia Pacific, in a tweet calling the spill "outrageous," said that the "direct threat" to the island and the 2,000 people living there required "immediate action, compensation [and] remediation."
This is outrageous. Toxic #oilspill onto world heritage reef in the Solomon Islands. A direct threat to the healt… https://t.co/JliWbdxaXd— Greenpeace Aus Pac (@Greenpeace Aus Pac)1551174061.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.