SOLOMON TRADER, Solomon Islands, 2019
4 February 2019
On the evening of 4th February 2019, cargo vessel SOLOMON TRADER (38,779 GT) ran aground during poor weather associated with Cyclone Oma in Kangava Bay, Rennell Island, Solomon Islands. The vessel was reportedly carrying 10,850 MT of bauxite ore at the time of the incident, a product mined and loaded at Rennell Island. The SOLOMON TRADER was also reported to be carrying 749 m3 of IFO 380, as well as other oils. and an unspecified volume of slops. Following a rupture of the port-side fuel oil tank, the IFO 380 was released to affect approximately 5 km of shoreline in Kangava Bay to varying degrees. The southern entrance of Kangava Bay marks the start of East Rennell UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site of a large inland brackish lagoon containing a number of endemic species.
The incident’s remote location created significant challenges, most notably limiting effective communications. As a result, delays were experienced mobilising personnel and equipment to site and complications arose transferring information from site to the command centre and vice-versa. Additionally, the clean-up response operations were limited by a number of factors including poor weather, a lack of a suitable local workforce, little available accommodation for response teams and logistical delays in the supply-chain. Initially, the P&I Club appointed an international salvage contactor to refloat the vessel. However, following continued bad weather, an oil leak occurred on 15th February and their contract was extended to include oil recovery. These recovery operations were transferred to Korean contractors following the refloating of the vessel.
Under the PACPLAN (Pacific Islands Regional Marine Spill Contingency Plan), the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) were mobilised to provide direct advice and assistance to the Solomon Islands Government (SIG) on all matters.
Oil remaining onboard the casualty was transferred to a storage barge mobilised to site from Vanuatu. Shoreline clean-up continued for several months with all waste eventually transported to South Korea for disposal, following the regulations within the WAIGANI Convention on the transboundary movement and management of hazardous wastes within the South Pacific Region. Teams of divers were employed intermittently until the end of the response to address sunken oil in sandy areas of the shore, primarily at Kangava Beach. Shoreline clean-up continued until 26th July 2019 when all operations were signed off, and workers demobilised the following day.
ITOPF was requested to attend onsite in Solomon Islands on 22nd February 2019. To gain an overview of the spill, ITOPF reviewed Sentinel satellite imagery and advised all parties on the potential extent of oil contamination. ITOPF’s Technical Advisers spent around 130 days embedded within the response operations on Rennell Island, providing technical recommendations for clean-up, environmental damage studies and acted as a liaison between the P&I Club and government interests. ITOPF also played a key role in establishing and reporting on sign-off inspections to effectively conclude the clean-up proceedings and ensure all parties were satisfied with the level of clean-up achieved.