A Huge Oil Spill In Rennell Has Contaminated A World Heritage Site

Rennell Island is a wild and windswept point in the Pacific Ocean. The water unites everything from its lush tropical forest to its steep limestone boulders.

It is the soul of the poor people of the island, their source of income. It’s their sustenance. A spill of hundreds of tons of heavy fuel oil from a freighter has fouled its southern coast’s water. And residents have no choice but to keep eating from it.

“They told us there was poison in the sea,” said William Teikagei. He’s a 60-year-old man who lives in a cabin he built on the beach. “But we do not have money, so we keep fishing.”

An environmental disaster happens here in Rennell. It’s a coral atoll located 3200 kilometers northeast of Australia. It houses a large lake surrounded by a thick forest that was declared a World Heritage Site. It all started almost three months ago when a ship transporting metallic minerals to China hit a reef. It was during one of the violent storms that hit this island with less than two thousand inhabitants.

The ship continues to spill fuel, staining the white sand beaches and endangering a delicate marine ecosystem. It reminds the scope and cost of humanity’s operations to extract resources from the planet.

The Polynesian population of Rennell does not have telephones or radio services. Medical care is a flight away in Honiara. It’s the capital of the Solomon Islands, among which is Rennell. The islanders have a few available vehicles. The airfield is little more than a grassy meadow that runs along a dirt road.

Something that does exist in Rennell is mining operations and infrastructure and the foreign workers who come with them. The mining trucks run through the towns day and night. They move from the forest to the port and leave a trail of dust behind them.

The oil spill is not the first mining-related calamity at Rennell. Operations have dug red pits in the coastline and left huge holes in the forest.

The stranded ship was carrying bauxite. It’s a mineral used to make aluminum. The bauxite extraction at the western end of Rennell has been tainted by allegations of rampant corruption and deception of landowners. There have been issues of regulatory violations.

The Solomon Islands government has allowed mining to reach an unsustainable pace with few revenue prospects and little capacity. It includes logging. There’s perhaps been little desire, and interests have been kept controlled.

The Solomon Islands is a nation of hundreds of islands in the western Pacific region and one of the poorest on Earth. It is an unstable parliament that often changes hands. Honiara is in Guadalcanal, where the United States and Japan fought during the Second World War. Until the end of the seventies, the country was a British protectorate.

Bauxite mining began in 2014. All of Rennell’s ore goes to China, by far the largest aluminum producer in the world. The felling of the Chinese also threatens to annihilate the country’s tropical forest. However, the inhabitants of the island have almost received nothing in return.

“Western Rennell was mined because they deceived and confused people,” said George Tauika. He’s the president of the World Heritage Site Association of Lake Tegano. “You can see the damage at a glance.”

“People are desperate and believe that mining and logging are the only alternatives,” he added.

In March, the prime minister of the Solomon Islands said that the country was not benefiting from the Rennell mining operation. It’s despite the previous government previously approving it.

The operator is an Indonesian company, Bintan Mining. Their managers are from China and Hong Kong. Last month, something happened on the eve of an election held on April 3. Hou announced an investigation to find out how the allotment for bauxite mining had been issued.

“My government considers exporting our resources to obtain almost no economic performance immoral and unacceptable,” he said.

Hou mentioned the oil spill. It’s now estimated at 300 tons, much more than originally forecast. It had caused irreversible damage. Furthermore, it is not just about the environment. Among the inhabitants of Rennell, it has only deepened a feeling that they are forgotten. Rennell is the largest elevated coral atoll globally. It is the most isolated of the Solomon in geographic terms.

After running aground on February 5, a cyclone pushed deeper into the reef of the 213-meter-long ship. It’s the Hong Kong-flagged Solomon Trader. The ship had been loading bauxite in Kangava Bay. It is at the mercy of cyclones from November to April.

The ship’s owner is King Trader. It’s from whom Bintan rented the vessel. It includes his insurer, Korea Protection. Along with Indemnity Club, they were slow to react. They allowed oil to spill out of control for weeks, according to Australian officials.

Shortly after the accident, officials declared that the oil had spilled more than 4.8 kilometers from the coast. They said he was approaching the World Heritage site called Rennell Oriental. It includes the largest lake in the insular Pacific and many endemic marine lands and species.

Amid the fights to see who was responsible, the parties involved finally brought equipment and cleaning equipment. It was also due to international pressure.

On March 7, Hou announced that his government was considering temporarily halting loading activities at the port Bintan runs. The prime minister took action. He did not talk about the suspension of mining operations.

There was a surprise maneuver. Hou said he had instructed his officials to investigate how a company called Asia Pacific Investment Development obtained a mining concession. Bintan extracts the bauxite thanks to a contract with that company.

The nation’s attorney general report has already found that the concession was granted. It was done without a recommendation from the country’s Minerals and Mines Board. It was a breach of the law.

A Huge Oil Spill In Rennell Has Contaminated A World Heritage Site

Although Hou has acquired a harder tone after the fuel spill, it is not that he has taken strong measures against Bintan. The government issued licenses for the company to explore the nearby islands a day after he said his activities were immoral.

When asked to comment on this article, Bintan sent videos of a newspaper article about his lawsuit against the ship’s owner.

It was assumed that the sites where Bintan operates would be exploited in phases and be rehabilitated progressively. It’s according to an environmental impact assessment. However, that never happened.

People depend on the minimum profits from mining. However, not everyone benefits from royalties and employment. It includes basic facilities the company offers, which has divided the island.

A Huge Oil Spill In Rennell Has Contaminated A World Heritage Site

“They work in our land,” said Obed Saueha. He’s the chief of the Tenuginuku tribe. “But we do not have any kind of power.”

However, the inhabitants want to stop seeing the ship stranded. The words scrawled in red paint on the Solomon Trader made it clear. “Sorry, but it was time to leave.” It’s what the painting reads.

By Coricia

Marketing manager and co-Chief Editor of Maritime Herald.