SYDNEY – An oil spill from a cargo ship that ran aground in the Solomon Islands has sparked fears of an environmental disaster in the Pacific, threatening a nearby world heritage site which is also home to one of the largest raised coral atolls in the world.
The bulk carrier, Solomon Trader, which was carrying 700 tons of heavy fuel oil and a cargo of bauxite, remained aground on Friday, over three weeks after it got stuck in the Kangava Bay on the island and caused the leakage.
The ship went aground on Feb. 5 on the remote island of Rennell during the passage of Cyclone Oma, a storm system which lingered over the region for weeks.
“The oil spans five to six kilometers across the shore and is moving towards the adjacent world heritage area,” a statement from Australia’s foreign affairs department said on Thursday.
Australia assists the government of Solomon Islands in the South Pacific in responding to emergencies.
“There is a high risk remaining heavy fuel oil on the vessel (currently estimated at over 600 tons) will be released into the surrounding area,” the statement warned.
New Zealand is also sending two experts to collaborate in operations to salvage the carrier, which has been stuck in rocky terrain and has provoked fears of a looming catastrophe.
Indonesian firm Bintan Mining Solomon Islands Limited, which hired the 225 meters (738 feet)-long ship registered in Hong Kong, has refused to assume liability for the accident, according to multiple news reports.
East Rennell was declared UNESCO World Heritage in 1998. It was included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage in Danger due to the excessive felling of trees, which has been blamed on companies like the Indonesian mining firm.
The remote region, which has featured in the eco-tourism circuit, occupies one-third of the 87,500 hectare (around 216,000 acre) area of the island of Rennell, the southernmost territory of the Solomon Islands, and encapsulates Tegano – the biggest lake in Pacific islands.
The lake houses many limestone islands and native species such as sea snakes.
East Rennell is also covered by dense forests with up to 20-meter tall foliage and possesses more than one thousand species, many of them endemic, of bats, birds, snails, and insects apart from being home to a huge variety of flora.
Some of these animals have been listed as endangered species, including the Rennell flying fox.