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STRICKEN bulker Solomon Trader has been emptied of 230 tonnes of oil, insurers say.

However, it has been confirmed that at least 70 tonnes of oil has leaked into the ocean.

The 225metre ship ran aground in early February on the island of Rennell, south of the capital city Honiara.

Insurers Korea Protection and Indemnity Club released a statement saying “significant milestones” had been reached.

“The transfer of bulk oil remaining on the vessel commenced on Sunday (10 March), following the arrival of a specialist tank barge towed in from Vanuatu,” the KP&I statement read.

“The barge was positioned alongside the vessel after being manoeuvred through Kanggava Bay’s outlying reefs by a tugboat.”

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About 230 tonnes already have been transferred, with the remaining oil scheduled to be moved in coming days.

Breaks are expected to be required in event of weather interruptions or equipment repair.

“Although initial estimates indicated that some 70 tonnes of oil entered the water, it’s now believed that the escaped amount is higher, something that will be clarified as the response progresses,” the KP&I statement read.

According to KP&I, the majority of escaped oil drifted into the open ocean where it was naturally degraded by waves, water temperatures and evaporation.

Oil experts International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation were called in and are reported to have advised that oil will break down completely given the conditions.

Smaller amounts of oil have moved to some parts of Kanggava bay and cleaning by the oil-spill response team continues. 

“With improved weather conditions, salvage divers have undertaken underwater inspections,” the statement read.

“Further dives will attempt to plug the damaged hull with a view to eliminating risks of more oil leaks. Naval Architects continue to assess the immediate vicinity to progress the re-float plan, with the Solomon Islands government having issued a wreck removal order.”

KP&I and the owner – King Trader Ltd (King Trader) – have emphasised the difficult and time-consuming aspects of the operation.  

KP&I and King Trader say they are working with local communities to help them understand the difficult, dangerous and time-consuming nature of the operation.

Chartered by Indonesian-based Bintan Mining, the Solomon Trader, loaded with nearly 11,000 tonnes of bauxite, initially grounded during a gale event on 5 February. King Trader secured a local tug to try and remove the vessel in a timely manner, however the situation worsened with the arrival of Cyclone Oma on 10 February.

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