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Gallons of oil spilling from the grounded tanker vessel “Solomon Trader” has been contained by contracted companies who do the salvaging work on Lughu Bay, Rennel Bellona Province.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has been working alongside Resolve Marine Group which was contracted by the vessels’ Insurer- Korea Protection and Indemnity Club (KP&I) for the past three weeks.
On-Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC) was formally being established and operational out from the casualty site (Lavagu) last month (Tuesday 27th February 2019). The OSOCC is now the centre that coordinates the current activities on the ground regarding to the responses to the Maritime Accident MA219 (MV Solomon Trader).
Participating teams from the Solomon Islands Government comprises of National Disaster Management Office (NDMO), Solomon Islands Maritime Safety Authority (SIMSA), Environment and Conservation Division (ECD), Royal Solomon Islands Police (RSIPF) and Fire Rescue, Environmental Health Division (EHD), Medical, Fisheries, Customs and Government Communications.
Officers from this respective ministries operates on rotational basis.
Authorities based on observations so far commend the progressive work of AMSA and Resolve in containment with the ongoing beach clean-up activities.
Captain McPherson Wawo of SIMSA after a weeklong observation concludes that Resolve team have done excellent effort which saw no evidence of oil spill to date.
“Good to see that there is no discharge of High Fuel Oils (HFO’s) at this stage.
“Only a few sleeks remain on the casualty vessel which is being pumped into storage tanks fitted on a barge,” he said.
2 storage tank of (HFO) has not been breach and the oil spill is a mixture of diesel and HFO’s.
Resolve team have transferred the double bottom HFO ballast tanks and the wing tanks to the ballast tanks located on furthest starboard side.
From here the oil will be pumped into bigger buckets fitted into a barge and ready for the decontamination process overseas.
Resolve Salvage Master Captain Stuart Murray Miller said they are working simultaneously.
“We do all the work on the same time, pumping oil, beach clean-up, set-up of booms, engage divers and hoping to patch up the breach hull when the oil are taken off.
“So it will take time and a lot of work yet to be done.
He said the salvaging work will take a minimum of 2 months.
“The actual plan is to refloat the casualty vessel which plans are being devised and worked on.
“It is not an easy task but for sure we will achieve our devised plans as this exercise continues,”Miller said.
It is estimated that approximately 100 tons of heavy fuel oil has leaked from one of the ship’s tanks over this 3-week period.
Assessment by RSIPF Fire Coordinator James Ketaru said fire risk at this stage is “very low”. He said gas checks conducted showed normalcy and fire risk awareness have been done yet remains a high priority.
Resolve with a pool of expertise are expecting few more shipment of their salvaging equipment but most are all on board the casualty with a fully powered 600KVA generator.
Resolve Shoreline Clean-up Assessment Techniques (SCAT) has set up booms for about 500m stretch along the beach near the casualty vessel to contain it whilst manual clean-up at Kangava Beach continues.
SCAT team leader Stephen Johnson said they have no timetable for the beach clean-up but for sure it will be cleared and neutralised.
“This booms will contain and hold the oils from going back with the tide.
“The spills will be glued to the booms and trapped for pumping into tanks,” he explained adding that they will use absorbent sprays to wash off the black, tar-like substance stacked onto the logs, rocks and pebbles.
Johnson said they are also lucky that the villagers at Kangava help them in the clean-up activities last week.
“With distribution of safety gears, we contracted them to help us collect the tar balls which were beached up.
“It requires a lot of manpower but we hope collection will yield more positive result on the overall containment exercise,” he said.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) who work on the off-shore oil contingency clean-up yield positive result on day one of the booming technique employed.
Starting on the Saturday last week (9th March) AMSA scooped in more than 800 litres of spilled oil using the current buster technology.
Current Busters is a u-shaped plastic materials which will usually widened and towed by two boats and act like a rake in the ocean to pick up oils floating on the surface.
The recovered oils are then skimmed into storage tanks awaiting decontamination process.
AMSA operations officer Pall Muttner said they are hoping that more collections will be done this week.
“We usually towed the booms in the early morning hours when the oils are concentrated over a large surface and favourable weather current.
“We are hoping to trap the spills as fast with bigger volume as we can,” the AMSA contracted worker explained.
Location and coordination of the off-shore work is supported by helicopter fly-overs in the mornings to trace and pinpoint the concentration, sheens and behaviour of the oil inside the Lughu Bay.
Environment and Conservation Division officers also help out in the Kangava Beach clean-up with Resolve SCAT.
They have seen signs of recovery on the ground.
Chief Environment Officer Edward Danitofea and his officers gathered that there is no trace of oil sleek and sheen on sea and coastline along the boundary of World Heritage Site Lake Tegano.
“We accompany Resolve SCAT visit to the World Heritage Site seaside boundary as far as Tuhugago beach and with the use of drones, we have not detect traces of oil slicks on the Eastern beaches of Rennel Island.
“One factor is the weather and current which keeps the oils spiralling inside Lughu Bay without streaking eastward,” he explained.
He said they will continue to monitor water quality monitoring at three beach sites for scale of acidity (pH), turbidity, total dissolve solute, redox, conductivity and temperature.
He adds the most likely affected marine species are located at the inter-tidal zone of the coastal area which are currently under close monitoring.
ECD team noticed that green algae is present in the reef and around casualty site of impact bringing thoughts of whether it was due to the oil spillage or sediment spillage from adjacent mining loading ports.
On the same note, Environmental Health Division team have recorded that few cases related to the oil spill was experienced in the first days of the oil spill but then there is an indication of a recovery process.
Chief Environmental Health Management officer Bobby Patteson said they have conducted repeated surveys on Kangava, Abatai & Matamoana communities checking for related risks on breathing issues, skin rash, red eye and dizziness.
“Normally we collect fresh water sample from the drinking water source of Abatai Communities for verification test on water quality.
“At this stage, there are no traces of oil condensation onto house roofs or trees.”
However, he cautioned that odour and fumes cannot be denied as the wind can carry odours from the spills below seeing that this villages are nestled on top of the ridges overlooking the bay.
The Environmental Health officer also pointed out that there is probability of diarrhoeal cases as a result of low water storage from tanks seeing there is no rain for 23 days.
They have also stage awareness on water tank usage use and ban using the sea water for wash, swimming and fishing in the next 40 days.
They also distributed to the affected houses United Nations International Children's Emergency Funds’ (UNICEF) supplies of collapsible containers with purity taps.
A Medical team also visit the communities near the casualty vessel and gathered signs of recovery.
Dr Tom Diko from the National Referral Hospital cautions the possible long term effects the oil spill might have on the communities.
“There are no immediate symptoms of the spill for now but we must be careful of the long term effects which might arise in the next 10 years or so.
“Related sickness from oil spills could lead to cancer.
“So communities must be careful of their water sources and sea food consumption,” the medical doctor said.
The mining company (Bintan) has been tasked to provide water from ponds inland and refilled per household storage tanks.
In the meantime, Honiara based police officers are helping their provincial counterparts in providing security for the salvaging teams and government authorities personnel. They also manage to recover some of the looted items which include the bridges’ vital instruments and hazardous chemicals.
The bay is currently ban for swimming, washing, fishing and recreational activities.
The Government maintained a daily assessment of the situation through the NDMO to ensure the salvaging operation is expedited as much as possible.
Caretaker Prime Minister Rick Hounipwela has thank the companies involved for the responses and it is the government’s hope for cohesive approach to address this environmental disaster effectively and adequately – from containment to rehabilitation.
He also thank the Australian and New Zealand governments for their support and assistance throughout this period.
He also thank the government machinery for kicking into action and ensuring the impact of this disaster is not worse than it could have been.
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