A bulk carrier loaded with bauxite that ran aground in the Solomon Islands northeast of Australia, on 5 February, in cyclonic conditions had reportedly begun leaking oil after failed attempts to salvage the vessel.
The Solomon Islands government has called on Australia for emergency help after its earlier attempts to salvage the vessel were prevented by rough seas.
Category 3 cyclone Oma had since begun tracking south towards the Queensland coast, and conditions were improving by 20 February.
The Hong Kong-flagged, 38,779 gt MV Solomon Trader was loading bauxite from a nearby mine when rough seas grounded the vessel on a coral reef in Kangava Bay near a world heritage site.
“Australia, through the Australian Maritime Safety Authority [AMSA], has undertaken an overflight inspection of the vessel,” a representative from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told SAS. “AMSA has also deployed an expert to assist with the Solomon Islands government’s next steps.”
Australia would work with the Solomons Islands government to hold the responsible company, owners, and insurers to account, she added.
The shipping agent, Tony Saliga, denied the oil spill allegations to Radio New Zealand. He said insurers, the shipping company that charter the vessel, and the mining company were making efforts to salvage the vessel.
MV Solomon Trader is under charter to Indonesia’s Bintan Mining Corporation (BMC). BMC told local media that salvage experts have been flown in from Singapore to help with the cleanup, but denied any “substantial oil spill”.
Islanders reported discoloured brown water in a lagoon 600 m southeast of the incident spot.
“Oil is slowly leaking from the vessel,” Derek Pongi from the Tehakatuu tribe on Rennell Island told Australia’s SBS News.
“The weather has moderated,” he said. “The sea is still running very heavily and it’s diffusing the oil, it’s leaking at a low rate. It’s starting to spread as slick.”
The Guardian Australia also reported the incident, citing government reports of “heavy fuel oil/black oil could be smelt from 800 m” from the vessel. The source said there was gas oil and heavy fuel oil on the ship.