Over 88 tons of oil has spilled out of a ship that ran aground near a special natural area of the Solomon Islands. So far almost nothing has been done to limit the flow of oil.
The oil, equal to about 27,000 gallons, has spread out across the water for about 3 miles (5 kilometers). It’s moving slowly toward a protected area called East Rennell.
The Solomon Islands is an island nation in Oceania near Papua New Guinea. Parts of the Solomon Islands are known for their clear waters, as well as the special plants and wildlife that live there.
The government of the Solomon Islands is very upset over the oil spill. Though the leak started over a month ago, the people responsible seem to have done almost nothing.
The ship, called the Solomon Trader, ran aground on February 5. The ship is reported to have been loading bauxite, a mineral used to make aluminum, in spite of warnings about bad weather.
The Hong Kong company that owns the boat, King Trader, sent a tugboat to try and pull the boat back to deeper water. But strong winds drove the ship farther on shore, tearing a hole and beginning the spill.
Perhaps most worrying is the fact that about 660 tons of oil remain on the boat. So far, there is no plan to prevent this oil from spilling out. Many people worry that more rough weather could cause the boat to spill oil even more quickly.
The Solomon Islands has close ties with Australia. At first, Australia sent people just to keep track of the oil spill. After the Solomon Islands asked for more help, Australia sent a larger team to help control the spill. The Australian government says it is very “disappointed by the slow response” of the companies that are responsible.
Any oil spill would be bad news, but the Solomon Islands include special natural areas. There are animals there that can be found nowhere else. East Rennell is an area that a group from the United Nations (UN) has said deserves special protection.
The oil spill is also having a terrible effect on the roughly 1,500 people who live on the island. Many people fish for food. Now they are unable to fish. Food is being brought in from the capital, Honiara, which is 150 miles (240 kilometers) away. They are also short on drinking water, since the oil has poisoned their normal sources of water.
The people have been told not to swim, since the oil can cause burns if it touches skin. The oil spill has also released strong chemicals into the air, so many people on the island are wearing masks to breathe more safely.
More help should be arriving soon, but it will be a race to see if the flow of oil can be stopped before it reaches the protected natural areas. And it will be months, if not years, before life on Rennell Island can return to normal.
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