AUSTRALIAN experts from AMSA were deployed last week to assist the Solomon Islands government in dealing with an oil spill near a UNESCO World Heritage area.

The Hong Kong-flagged bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader (IMO 9075670) ran aground at Kangava Bay on Rennell Island.

Reuters reported the vessel was driven onto a reef by Cyclone Oma on 5 February.

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In a press release, minister for foreign affairs Marise Payne said up to 75 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from the ship has dispersed across the Island’s sea and shoreline, contaminating the ecologically delicate area. More than 600 tonnes of heavy fuel oil remains on the stricken vessel.

Ms Payne said Australia was extremely concerned by the ongoing risk of a major oil spill from the vessel.

“Rennell Island is home to a UNESCO listed World Heritage site and the people of Rennell rely on the ocean and natural resources of the Island for their livelihoods,” she said.

“Given escalating ecological damage, and a lack of action by commercial entities involved, the Solomon Islands government has requested Australia’s assistance. In response, we are mobilising an offshore pollution mitigation operation, including equipment, vessels and specialised personnel, under the leadership of AMSA and working alongside the Solomon Islands government’s own efforts.”

Ms Payne said Australia continues to stand behind the Solomon Islands government’s efforts to ensure commercial parties responsible for the incident take action and are held responsible.

“Australians and our neighbours across the Pacific know the economic and environmental importance of our oceans,” she said.

“We expect companies operating in our region to meet international standards and take seriously their environmental obligations.” According to UNESCO, Rennell Island is the largest raised coral atoll in the world, covering an area of 87,000 hectares, at 86 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide. The island is home to about 1200 people live on the island in four villages, living mainly by subsistence gardening, hunting and fishing.

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