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Solomon Islands facing worst made-made environmental disaster in history

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Bulk carrier runs aground on coral reef and leaks fuel into UNESCO site in South Pacific

T he Solomon Islands in the South Pacific is facing its worst man-made environmental disaster in the country’s history, according to worrying new reports.

At least 60 tonnes of fuel have poured into a reef off Rennell Island after the bulk carrier, MV Solomon Trader, ran aground a few weeks ago.

According to reports, the ship’s anchor dragged and it has become lodged near one of the world’s largest raised coral atolls and a UNESCO site.

The vessel was reportedly attempting to load bauxite from a nearby mine.

L ocals say the spill is continuing today.

An assessment by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority has estimated that 60 tonnes of oil has been spilled with a further 600 tonnes onboard the ship, Splash reports.

Australian high commissioner Rod Brazier said: “Australia is extremely concerned at the scale of this disaster. The impact of this oil spill will have a devastating effect on the surrounding environment, including potentially on a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the livelihood of the people of Rennell.”

Salvage teams from the US and Australia have been drafted in to remove the wreck. But observers fear that if the spill is not contained quickly, then the fuel could cause irreversible damage to the local environment.

Locals are also worried that fishing grounds could be decimated by the spillage. One local said: “It's impossible to fish or swim in the sea. The people rely on the sea but now it's all contaminated and polluted. Things are not looking good for my people.”

The charterers, the ship’s owners and their insurers will be called to account for the disaster, according to National Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates. He added: "The Government is very clear in the directive to the company to have the salvage done, remove the oil, cleaning up the environment and removing the wreck from Solomon Islands.”

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also released a statement suggesting travellers reconsider venturing to Rennell which presents a “high level of risk”.