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Oil spills, Rennell, Solomon Islands


In July 2019, while attempting to load bauxite from a nearby mine [4], bulk carrier MV Solomon Trader ran aground on a reef carrying 700 tonnes of oil [1], spilling thereby the oil into the waters of the Rennell island [1][4]. Earlier that year, another ship spilled more than 100 tons of oil into the eastern side of this same bay after strong waves pushed the ship into a reef.  As a consequence an estimated 300 people of Tenuginuku tribe residing along the coast, until present day, are not able to have fresh fish for food nor swim the waters needed for their traditional way of living [4]. The total oil spill is estimated at 300 tonnes [2]. 

East part of the Rennell island is also protected by UNESCO as it contains the largest raised coral atoll in the world [5]. The vessel, however, was leaking fuel for a few months.  Furthermore, little progress has been done on stopping oil leaking from the vessel [1] [2]. 

The Indonesian companies Bintan Mining, Indo Bauxite Mining Corp., and subcontracted by Asia Pacific Investment Development company chartered the ship. The ship's insurers are Korea Protection and Indemnity Club, and the owner is King Trader Ltd [3].

Bauxite mining on the Island began in 2014. Besides the Bitan company involved in this conflict, other companies are operating on the site (e.g. Australian Pacific Bauxite). All of the ore from Rennell goes to China, by far the world’s largest producer of aluminum [1] [2] [13]. Island residents, however, have seen little in return [2]. "We do not benefit from mining", a local resident stated [4], adding, “It’s toxic in the sea.” [2]. The spills had caused irreversible socio-ecological damage on the island. Villagers say they have felt sick after the spill. Their skin itches and their children have been vomiting [2] [6]. 

At the early time of the incidents, the prime minister of the country was considering temporarily halting loading activities at the port run by the mining company (Bintan). However, mining operations were not suspended [2]. Yet the PM ordered an investigation on how a company called Asia Pacific Investment Development obtained a mining lease since Bintan mines the bauxite under contract with Asia Pacific Investment Development [2] [3]. In 2015, this company was found guilty of illegal logging in the Solomons. Accordingly, a report by the nation’s attorney general has found that the lease for bauxite mining was granted without a recommendation from the country’s Mines and Minerals Board [2].

Although the Government pressed a lawsuit against the shipowner (King Trader Ltd),  at the same time the Government issued further licenses to the company (Bintan) for nearby islands [2]. 

The sites where Bintan operates were supposed to be mined in phases rehabilitated, according to an environmental impact assessment. But that never happened. A resident belonging to the Tenuginuku tribe stated that Bintan is digging on ancestral lands, destroying graveyards, and other important sites [2].

An Australian academic and environmental management expert says the oil spills in Rennell were not just an accident but an inevitable outcome of a broken system: questions of liability, inadequate legislation and corporate [ir]responsibility have been pored over again with the incidents being described as the worst in the country's history [7]. 

A spokesman for land on which the Rennell Island deposits occur, and also secretary of the Lake Tengano World Heritage Site Association, claims that ‘no forms of mining will be accepted on their land’. The land spokesman is saying the community was never consulted, that what happened was that "company representatives and associates lured the people of the island to sign documents they knew nothing about" [8]. The mining companies bullied and tricked communities into signing over prospecting rights to their land [12]. However, one of the companies--- the Australian Pacific Bauxite denied any allegations and said it had worked in close consultation with landowners (traditional communities) who supported their work [12]. Yet Some landowners have said they were not properly told about the environmental impact of mining, and others claimed they were coerced into signing blank pieces of paper or had their signatures forged [12].

Just after the oil cleanup, Rennell Island was hit by bauxite leaking about 5000 tonnes of ore into the waters of Kangava Bay by the same ship MV Solomon Trader. The bauxite incident occurred during barge loading operations [10] [11]. Again the contamination damaged the reef along the shoreline, harming local fish stocks and impacting the livelihood of the local community [11].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Oil spills, Rennell, Solomon Islands
Country:Solomon Islands
State or province:Rennell Island
Location of conflict:Kangava Bay,
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Mining exploration and/or ore extraction
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Specific commodities:Aluminum/Bauxite

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The project operator is an Indonesian company, Bintan Mining (part of Indo Bauxite Mining Corp. ), whose directors are from China and Hong Kong. To date, Bintan Mining and Indo Bauxite Mining Corp. have altogether delivered hundreds of shipments of bauxite ore from the Rennell island to key alumina smelters in China [13].


"Driven by demand for China where a substantial fall in home-reserves of bauxite and domestic production requires a corresponding increase in bauxite imports. China is set to remain a major player in the globally traded bauxite market, planning to build several nine million tonnes per annum (goal by 2019). The UAE, Indonesia and Laos plan to build new alumina refineries with a potential capacity of more than six million tonnes per annum, (also a goal by 2019). Existing bauxite supplies together with planned developments are expected to satisfy global demands until approximately 2020. Beyond this point in time, new projects will be required to meet the forecast demand, with a supply deficit of more than 25 million tonnes by 2025, and over 50 million tonnes by 2030. The Solomon Islands are potentially well placed to supply high quality bauxite." [13] (as we saw in this case---at the expense of local communities environmental, social and economic well-being).

Type of populationRural
Affected Population:3,000
Start of the conflict:01/01/2019
Company names or state enterprises:Bintan Mining from Indonesia
Pacific Bauxite from Australia
Relevant government actors:Prime Minister (Mr. Hou)
Mines and Minerals Board
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:- OceansWatch Solomon Islands
- Lake Tegano World Heritage Site Association

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Local scientists/professionals
Tenuginuku tribe
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Waste overflow, Oil spills, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Air pollution, Fires, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (undecided)
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:After 300 tonnes of oil spill into the island waters, a new incident occurred spilling another 5000 tonnes of mined bauxite in the same water. A lawsuit has been pressed by the local government against the oil spill. However, the same government issued new licences for mining which caused the second incident, the bauxite spill.

Sources & Materials

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[8] Baines, G. (2015). Solomon Islands is Unprepared to Manage a Minerals-Based Economy. Australian National University.

[1] The Guardian 2019: 'We cannot swim, we cannot eat': Solomon Islands struggle with nation's worst oil spill

[2] New York Times 2019: "There is Poison in the Sea"

[3] ABC News 2019: Solomon Islands threatens to blacklist companies after 'irreversible' oil spill disaster

[4] ABC News 2019: Environmental disaster looms at heritage-listed Solomon Islands site after oil spill

[5] UNESCO 2019: Update on East Rennell oil spill, Solomon Islands

[6] The Guardian 2019: Solomon Islands: bay hit by oil spill suffers second contamination crisis

[7] Radion New Zealand 2019: Rennell oil spill an inevitable outcome of broken system, says academic

[9] The MaritimeExecutive 2019. Just After Oil Cleanup, Rennell Island Hit by Bauxite Spill

[10] Pacific Beat: Logging company "reinvented" itself as bauxite miner in Solomon Islands, says researcher

[11] Gizmodo 2019: For the Second Time in Six Months, a Mining Ship Has Polluted This World-Famous Reef

[12] The Guardian 2019: Pacific Bauxite accused of tricking Solomon Islanders over mining rights

[13] Pacific Bauxite Limited Official Website: Bauxite Demand

Meta information

Contributor:Oil spills project KH and JMA ICTA-UAB
Last update29/07/2020
Conflict ID:5155



Location of the spill: Rennell Island, Solomon Islands,

Source: The Guardian 2019

5,000 tonnes of bauxite spill Renell island

Source: SBS News via The Guardian 2019

Oil spills, Rennell island

Source: ABC News 2019

Affected communities joined to clean up the oil spill

Source: New York Times 2019