ACCESSION TO ‘BUNKERS CONVENTION’ CRITICAL TO PURSUE OIL SPILL COMPENSATION

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The Solomon Islands recent accession to the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (‘Bunkers Convention’) is critical for pursuing compensation regarding the recent oil spill damages in the country.

Solomon Islands had acceded to the convention on 15 January 2015.

A detailed environmental damage assessment commissioned by the Government on the Rennell Oil Spill has concluded that the grounding of the ship MV Solomon Trader and the subsequent oil spill caused significant ecological impacts and economic losses in the order of US$14 million –US$38 million. 

The Bunkers Convention aims to ensure that prompt and adequate compensation is available to persons inclusive of state parties, individuals and communities to claim for compensation arising from pollution damage and costs of preventative measures taken to prevent or minimise damage. 

It further provides for claims to be taken directly against the insurer of the ship. The Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) received the instrument of accession to the convention on 15 October 2020 from Solomon Islands Minister of Foreign Affairs and External Trade.

The accession to the Bunkers Convention was triggered by the grounding of MV Solomon Trader in February 2019, which spilled more than 300 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into Kagava Bay, Rennell Bellona Province. 

Now that the Convention has entered into force for the Solomon Islands, the Government is in the process of pursuing owners and insurers for compensation arising from pollution damages caused by MV Solomon Trader and the recent MV Quebec in Santa Cruz respectively. 

The Governments’ ratification of the Convention is a step in the right direction in-line with international practices.

The Rennell Oil Spill has also been one of the agendas which the Premier of Rennell and Bellona Province Hon. Willy Tuhagenga and his delegation discussed with Prime Minister Hon. Manasseh Sogavare during a courtesy visit early this week.

Hon. Sogavare strongly urged for actions to be taken to address the compensation claims.

The bill once enacted and come into force will to certain extent change how frontline and support staff of COVID-19 operations carry out their tasks and duties and as such was necessary to include them in the consultations.
Furthermore, since the bill aims to enhance effectiveness and efficiency of national response to COVID-19, it is crucial that the experiences of COVID-19 front-liners and support staff are shared and captured. This is to help shape and define the bill to meet its intended purpose.
Attorney-General Mr John Muria in his remarks to open the consultation thanked the participants for their commitment and dedication towards protecting Solomon Islands from the global pandemic, especially in preventing the worst-case scenario of a community transmission.
“Our society remains free from COVID-19 transmission to date and much can be attributed towards the hard working front-liners and support staff. More importantly for this consultation, experiences in COVID-19 operations is very relevant to provide critical inputs to help the taskforce continue to improve the bill to ensure that once passed it will enhance effectiveness and efficiency of COVID-19 operations”,
“Therefore thank you for your time and effort to attend the consultation and your contributions is greatly appreciated”, stated Mr Muria.

NRH CEO Dr George Malefoasi presenting some inputs to PHEB with the assistance of his group members Director Health Promotion Adrian Leamana and Surveillance Officer Cynthia Joshua.

Consultation include, presentations including questions and answer sessions on the bill, international health regulation, national preparedness and response to COVID-19 followed by groups discussions and presentations on key elements of the bill by the participants.
Participants include medical and health workers, police, National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) Solomon water, Solomon Islands Red Cross, immigration and customs, ports authority etc. PHEB consultation is at the edge of its completion with 2 more consultations scheduled for first week of March before taskforce moves to finalize for tabling in parliament. Once enacted, PHEB will replace the current State of Public Emergency once it expires.

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