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Rare marine environment on Solomon Islands threatened by oil spill from grounded tanker

News & Blog

Marine life at a Unesco World Heritage site in the Solomon Islands is under threat from a tanker ship that ran aground in early February and has leaked fuel oil along the coast.

The spill from Hong Kong-flagged MW Solomon Trader is worse than first thought, according to the owner. So far more than 70 tonnes of heavy fuel oil have been dumped into the South Pacific Ocean causing a 5km slick along the bay where it still lies grounded.

Buffeted by Cyclone Oma, the bulk carrier was driven onto a reef at Rennell Island on Feb. 5 while loading a cargo of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminium. The ship was carrying 700 tonnes of oil when it ran aground and there are fears the remaining fuel will spoil Rennell Island, the world’s largest raised coral atoll and home to many species found nowhere else.

“Although initial estimates indicated that some 70 tonnes of oil entered the water, it’s now believed that the escaped amount is higher, something that will be clarified as the response progresses,” the ship’s owner and its insurance company, Korea Protection and Indemnity Club, said in a statement. The remaining oil is being transferred to safer tanks.

The eastern half of Rennell Island was the first natural property to be inscribed on the World Heritage List with customary management, and is home to 1,200 Polynesians who live by subsistence farming, hunting and fishing, the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) website showed.

The United Nations body describes the site, with its unique limestone formations, a large lake and dense forest, as “a true natural laboratory for scientific study”.

Residents told the Guardian newspaper residents they cannot fish in the waters and are forced to drink rainwater after fresh water collected from springs near the shore became contaminated with oil.

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