Korea Protection and Indemnity Club (KP&I) has appointed the US-based maritime salvage company Resolve Marine to oversee the Solomon Trader incident response in the Solomon Islands.
Earlier this week, some onboard power of the grounded bauxite bulker was restored, enabling a deck crane to lift key salvage equipment on board.
“The task of transferring some 600 tonnes of fuel oil on the vessel to higher and safer tanks is progressing, with a view to the oil being pumped to a barge,” the vessel’s protection indemnity insurer said. “Another priority is dealing with some 70 tonnes of fuel oil that has leaked into the coastal waters. Boom placement and shoreline cleaning is underway, in accordance with recommendations from international oil spill experts.”
According to KP&I, salvage divers are on standby to conduct external examinations of the hull and, if possible, plug hull breaches with sealing compounds. These activities will be done when weather permits.
Weather conditions have pushed much of the leaked oil to sea where it has dispersed, however, some oil has caused “unacceptable” coastal damage, KP&I added.
As World Maritime News earlier reported, the 73,592 dwt Solomon Trader carrying over 700 tons of heavy fuel oil ran aground in Solomon Islands’ Rennell and Bellona Province on February 5, 2019. Chartered by Indonesian-based Bintan Mining, the ship was loaded with nearly 11,000 tons of bauxite at the time of the incident.
As the oil spans five to six kilometers across the shore and is moving towards the adjacent World Heritage area, the Solomon Islands government has requested assistance from Australia to contain the oil spill moving toward the UNESCO listed area due to “a lack of action by commercial entities involved”.
In response, Australia mobilized an offshore pollution mitigation operation, including equipment, ships and specialized personnel.
On March 6, the ship insurer KP&I and vessel owner King Trader apologized to the people of the Solomon Islands following the bauxite carrier’s grounding on a sensitive reef, expressing “deep remorse”.
Moreover, the duo stressed that “reports of the Solomon Trader crew being absent from the vessel or intoxicated at the time of the grounding are false.”
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 Omar, which pushed the stricken vessel harder into the reef, resulting in hull and engine room damage. Several factors have impacted and delayed the salvage response, including the vessel’s power being lost, as explained by KP&I.
In addition, the remote and hazardous location has made it difficult to secure local resources and it has been time-consuming bringing in resources from other locations.
Limitations of the local airstrip mean that heavy equipment including pumps and generators have had to complete the final part of their journey by sea. Inclement weather has made it difficult and at times impossible to access the vessel, and conditions have been too dangerous for external underwater inspections – a key assessment ahead of salvage operations.
Another setback was the vessel being ransacked once the crew was evacuated, resulting in onboard resources that may have assisted with the early response being removed or damaged, the two companies further said.