Grounded Bulk Carrier Leaking Heavy Fuel Oil Near UNESCO World Heritage Site

solomon trader aground
Solomon Trader aground off Rennel Island. Photo: Australian High Commision, Solomon Islands

An environmental disaster has been unfolding in the Solomon Islands this week after a grounded bulk carrier there is reported to have leaked tonnes of heavy fuel oil near a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The 73,592 dwt MV Solomon Trader has been aground since February 5th when it was pushed onto a reef in Kangava Bay off Rennell Island during a tropical cyclone while loading bauxite at a nearby mine. Since then, Australia has been working with the Solomon Islands government on the response.

Officials this week said the ship has now leaked as much 60 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the pristine bay. More than 500 tonnes is estimated to remain onboard.

The nearby East Rennell atoll and its surrounding corals has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998 and is listed as one of the World Heritage Sites in Danger by the UNESCO committee in 2013.

“Australia continues to support the Solomon Islands Government in efforts to address the environmental disaster in Rennell Island from the wreck of the MV Solomon Trader,” the Australian High Commission to the Solomon Islands wrote in a Facebook post this week. “Aerial surveillance taken by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority – AMSA today and yesterday shows ongoing oil spilling into the bay from the vessel. Australian support for regular surveillance helps the Solomon Islands Government to hold the responsible parties to account for this disaster.”

Authorities are also recommending that the public to reconsider their travel to Rennell Island as heavy fuel oil is a toxic substance that should be avoided.