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Just After Oil Cleanup, Rennell Island Hit by Bauxite Spill

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Bauxite loading operations, Bintan Mining (video still via social media)

By The Maritime Executive 2019-07-08 21:28:55

On Monday, a bauxite-mining operation in the Solomon Islands released about 5,000 tonnes of ore into the waters of Kangava Bay, Rennell Island - the same area hit by a major oil spill in February. 

The casualty occurred during barge loading operations; according to local reports and images, a barge containing bauxite capsized at a position on the west side of the bay. Photos from the scene suggest that the quantity released was enough to turn a large section of the bay from green-blue to deep red in color.

The cleanup effort for the last spill - the release of an estimated 100 tonnes of fuel oil from the bulker Solomon Trader in March - has now finished, and an environmental assessment to determine the residual impact is expected to conclude soon. But damage from the bauxite mine continues, according to local environmental advocates.

"I've seen the photos over the last few years since mining started, and previous bauxite spills and that bay is getting contaminated now," conservationist Chris Bone of Oceanswatch told ABC Australia. "It appears to be three barges now that have gone onto the reefs now and it shows the level of absolute incompetence."

Bone indicated that there is a risk that the bauxite contamination will damage the reef along the shoreline, harming local fish stocks and impacting the livelihood of the local community. He expressed dissatisfaction with the national government's efforts to provide regulatory oversight for the mining industry on Rennell Island.

The previous spill at Rennell Island was also associated with the mine's operations. In early February, mine operator Bintan Mining chartered the bulker Solomon Trader to take on a load of bauxite at its facility. The Trader went aground in foul weather on a reef in Kangava Bay on February 5, and she remained there without pollution prevention or salvage intervention for weeks. By February 25, she had suffered a hull breach and had begun to spill oil into the bay. Ultimately she released at least 100 tonnes of fuel oil into the marine environment. 

Salvors refloated and removed the Trader in May, and the oil cleanup continued until June. The long-term effects of the spill are not yet known.