15 may 2019

The bulker Solomon Trader has been refloated from the reef where she went aground February 5 on Rennell Island, according to the Solomon Islands’ National Disaster Office.

The Trader called at Rennell Island in early February to take on a load of bauxite ore at Bintan Mining dock, located in Kangava Bay on the west side of the island. She went aground on a reef just off the shore on February 5.

The assessment and pollution prevention response was delayed due to the passage of Cyclone Oma, and the Trader suffered a hull breach within about two weeks of the grounding. Aerial surveillance imagery from February 25 suggests that a containment boom was not deployed prior to the spill.  

Ultimately, the Solomon Trader released an estimated 100 tons of fuel oil into the marine environment in Kangava Bay. The pollution nearly reached the protected UNESCO World Heritage site at the east end of the island, which includes the largest raised coral atoll in the Pacific. At least three miles of reefs and coastline have been soiled with fuel oil, and estimates of the cost of cleanup range as high as $50 million.

The Trader’s charterer, bauxite mine operator Bintan Mining, claims that it bears no responsibility for the casualty, and its operations continue. The Solomon Islands’ acting prime minister, Rick Hou, has threatened to “blacklist” the companies involved if they “do not take on their responsibilities.”

Salvors halted the leak from the Trader’s hull in mid-March and pumped off about 230 tonnes out of an estimated 600 tonnes of fuel on board. After extensive preparations, and a multi-day wait for the right tide, the salvage team successfully refloated the Trader this weekend and brought her off the reef, according to the Solomon Islands’ National Disaster Office.

It is the second time that the Solomon Trader has been refloated: In 2012, when she was known as the Doric Chariot, she went aground on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. That time she was repaired and put back into service, but she is now expected to be scrapped.


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