Gov’t hesitant to prosecute logging company

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Landowners seek justice for environmental damages to ecosystem

BY GEORGINA KEKEA

SEA boundary owners of Sabunu on Vangunu Island in the Western province are very disappointed with the government.

In an article to Island, the group of rural people say government is hesitant to prosecute a logging company that had discharged toxic waste into their sea.

In or around March this year, they claim that a logging company, renowned in Western province for poor environmental practices, was responsible for the illegal discharge of large amounts of waste oil as well as toxic waste metal pollutants.

The illegal dumping of fuel was witnessed by numerous members of the Sabunu tribe. Witnesses say that during the transfer and loading from the log pond of timber felled by the company onto their boat the MV Portland, waste fuel and scrap metal were dumped, in order to clear space and ballast for logs.

Spokesman for the owners of Sabunu, Reverend Bulaid Leto, said the thick slick of oil and waste that was intentionally and illegally released from the ship has continued to wash up on the shores of the surrounding coastline in the months that have followed, causing serious damage to the reefs and ecosystems within that area.

After being unable to confront the responsible companies for compensation, the Sabunu owners took their grievance to the relevant government institutions charged with monitoring compliance with environmental laws.

To their grievances, both government institutions issued a letter to the Camp Manager of the company.

In August 29 this year (2018), Environment Director in the Ministry of Environment urged the company to address the claims by resource owners.

In the letter he wrote, “Waste oils and thus marine pollution have been witnessed floating around the marine environment there for several days. I understand that the issue has been brought to your attention in the past and that you are aware of the incidents”.

Last week when contacted by Island Sun to verify the information, Director Joe Horokou says there is nothing much the government can do when it comes to compensation for the resource owners.

“The incident happened almost six months ago and the resource owners just came to us recently with their claim. We need to have evidence of such claims.”

Horokou said now it is too late for them to do any assessment and whether the assessment will be justifiable as the toxic waste might not be visible anymore.

At the same time Acting Director SIMSA has issued a letter to the company advising the company to clean up any remain of discharged oil reported and to consider the resource owners claim.

Under the MARPOL Convention of the International Maritime Organisation, which Solomon Islands has acceded to, Annex 1 of Marpol 73/78 prohibits the discharging of oil into the sea anywhere around the world except oily bilge water discharge through an Oily Water Separator (OWS). The convention is part of Solomon Islands Shipping Act of 1998 where a spot fine of USD$500,000 is the initial penalty for known cases of contravention of Annex 1.

The resource owners of Sabunu said they will seek legal assistance from the Public Solicitors Office to ensure this environmental crime does not go unpunished because they are not satisfied with the letters issued by the government institutions.

Island Sun has not been able to confirm whether the resource owners have received compensation from the logging company accused of discharging the toxic waste.

It is understood that the compensation would be cheaper for the company than the USD$500,000 spot fine.

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