The oil spill from a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker is much worse than first believed, its owner has revealed.
The bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader ran aground during bad weather a month ago at a Unesco World Heritage site in the Solomon Islands. The remote Rennell Island in the South Pacific is home to the world’s largest coral atoll.
So far, more than 70 tonnes of oil have been dumped into the ocean, causing a large slick in Kangava Bay. But the amount is thought to be higher now. This will have a long-lasting effect on the local ecosystem, experts say.
The ship ran into difficulties on February 5, while loading a cargo of bauxite (bawk-site), the ore used to make aluminium.
The ship’s insurance company said most of the oil – the tanker’s fuel – had gone into the open ocean where it will be broken up by waves, water temperatures and evaporation.
Hong Kong’s Marine Department said it was already in contact with the vessel’s owner about containing the spill, which sparked global concerns over the environmental disaster. The Australian government has sent specialised equipment and crew to help clean up the mess.
Dr Stephen Li Yiu-kwong, a professor of maritime studies at Polytechnic University, said the city’s authorities needed to follow up on the incident as the vessel is registered in Hong Kong.
“It’s like if my son did some damage to your house,” he said. “As a parent, I also have the responsibility [to follow up].”
He said the department could punish the owners with a warning or suspension of their shipping licence if the company were found to be responsible for the spill.
The ship’s insurer said that it was taking a long time to clear the oil from the MV Solomon Trader because of the remote location and bad weather.