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Solomon Islanders are struggling with the impacts of an oil spill on their doorstep

AAP, March 7, 2019 6:30PM Kids News

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The ship Solomon Trader on the coast of Rennell Island. The ship ran aground and began spilling oil a month ago. Picture: AFL/DFAT media_cameraThe ship Solomon Trader on the coast of Rennell Island. The ship ran aground and began spilling oil a month ago. Picture: AFL/DFAT


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Solomon Islanders are struggling to cope with the impacts of a major oil spill that occurred as a result of Cyclone Oma last month.

A ship called Solomon Trader was pushed onto a reef and grounded on February 5 during the cyclone while collecting bauxite ore* from remote Rennell Island.

Coral damaged the side of the ship and at least 70 tonnes of oil spilt near a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Another 600 tonnes of oil was also onboard the ship.

Australia is providing technical help and advice to the Solomon Islands government.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority* staff have observed the ship from the air and seen that oil is still leaking. They also reported that, as of this week, the oil covered 5-6km across the shoreline and was moving towards the World Heritage Area, according to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

media_cameraOil washing ashore of Rennell Island, Solomon Islands, after the ship called Solomon Trader ran aground and was damaged. Picture: AFP/DFAT

The people of Rennell Island, where the spill occurred, can’t swim, play or catch fish and shellfish in Kangava Bay and can’t collect freshwater from the streams and springs near the coast. Instead, they must rely on supplies brought in from the capital, Honiara, 240km away.

media_cameraThe Solomon Islands are a tropical paradise and the people who live there rely on the sea and tourists who come to holiday in the beautiful natural environment. Picture: Michael Wayne

Bad weather hampered* early efforts to assess the damage and clean up.

An Indonesian company called Bintan Mining Corporation chartered the 225m-long, Hong Kong-registered ship, owned by another company called King Trader Ltd. Bintan Mining Corporation has said it has no liability* in the case, but is helping.

However, problems with an onboard emergency generator also stalled the clean-up effort.

Environmental group Oceans Watch Solomon Islands’ Chris Bone expressed disappointment that three weeks after the spill, no oil booms* or dispersants* had been deployed in the area.

“It’s landed on the best piece of reef in the whole area, a really important piece of reef for breeding,” he told Radio NZ.

“It’s already a disaster. It would be terrible if the rest of it were released.”

The Solomons Island government has advised that the responsibility for the cleanup lies with the businesses involved, including the ship owner.

In a statement issued on March 5, DFAT said: “Australia has been profoundly disappointed by the slow response of these companies, and their lack of adequate communications with and responsiveness to the Solomon Islands government.”
Oil spills can happen in the ocean or on land, wherever oil is being mined or transported, including in pipelines or on ships.

Oil is disastrous for the natural environment. It sticks to the feathers of birds and the fur of mammals. The oil limits the insulating ability of the fur or feathers, which means the animals aren’t able to keep themselves warm. They also don’t float in water as well. Oil in the water is poisonous to fish and other marine life and to humans. Humans can’t eat or use any of these marine animals or plants such as seaweed.

16/06/2009 WIRE: 16/06/2009 WIRE: Attitude Global to Local 18: FILE - In this April 1989 file photo, an oil soaked bird is examined on an island in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Exxon Mobil Corp. was ordered Monday June 15, 2009 to pay about $500 million in interest on punitive damages for the Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, nearly doubling the payout to Alaska Natives, fishermen, business owners and others harmed by the 1989 disaster. The ruling was issued by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Jack Smith, File) media_cameraAn oil-soaked bird is examined on an island in an island in Prince William Sound, Alaska, US after the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989. Picture: AP

There have been many major oil spills that have devastated natural environments, but one that received a lot of attention around the world was the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989 in Alaska. The Exxon Valdex oil tanker ran aground on a reef and spilt 35,000 tonnes of oil. It is considered one of the world’s worst human-caused natural disasters. The oil eventually covered 28,000 square kilometres of ocean.

In water, oil spills are often cleaned up with booms that skim the oil from the surface of the water so some of it can be collected, dispersants that break the oil into tiny droplets and sometimes by setting the oil alight and burning it.

In a 02 Apr 1989 photo, workers try to remove globs of oil from Baked Island in Prince William Sound, Alaska after the oil tanker ship Exxon Valdez ran aground 24 Mar 1989, spilling more than 10-million gallons of oil. The current Louisiana oil rig spill could eclipse the worst oil spill in U.S. history, the 11 million gallons that leaked from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989, in the three months it could take to drill a relief well and plug the gushing well 5,000 feet underwater on the sea floor. (AP Photo/Jack Smith, File) media_cameraWorkers try to remove globs of oil from Baked Island in Prince William Sound, Alaska, US, after the oil tanker ship Exxon Valdez ran aground on March 24, 1989. Picture: AAP


  • bauxite ore: a mineral mined to make aluminium
  • Australian Maritime Safety Authority: a government agency for shipping and marine safety
  • hampered: hinder or delay
  • liability: legal responsibility
  • booms: long arm to collect or support something
  • dispersants: chemical that helps something spread out


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  1. What natural event led to the oil spill?
  2. What length is the oil spill as of March 5?
  3. What does oil do to feathers and fur?
  4. How much oil was spilt from Exxon Valdez?
  5. Name three methods used to clean up an oil spill.


1. List the Problems
Write the initial problem ‘Ship running aground’ in the centre of your page. Create a mind map of all the problems it has caused already and the problems it may continue to cause.

Look over your work. Colour code the problems as HUMAN or ENVIRONMENTAL (or both).

For example: People can’t swim in the area – HUMAN


Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Critical and Creative Thinking, Science

2. Extension
From the information given and from further research explain why oil spills have such a disastrous impact on the environment. Explain the impacts it can have and how timely clean-ups are important to reduce the immediate and long-term problems.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Science

With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

HAVE YOUR SAY: Write a message to one of the businesses involved explaining to them the need to clean up quickly and thoroughly.
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. Your answers will not show until approved by editors.

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