The owner of a grounded cargo ship that is leaking oil into World Heritage-listed waters in the Solomon Islands has apologized for the environmental disaster but denied the crew were drunk when the accident happened.
MV Solomon Trader ran aground on Feb 5 while loading bauxite at remote Rennell Island, some 240km south of the Pacific nation's capital Honiara.
More than a month later, the 225-metre ship is still stuck on the reef and has leaked more than 70 tons of oil into the sea, with another 600 tons still on the stricken vessel.
The ship's insurer, Korean Protection and Indemnity Club (KP&I), issued an apology late Wednesday on behalf of itself and the vessel's Hong Kong-based owner King Trader Ltd.
”(We) have offered a sincere apology to the people of the Solomon Islands ... although matters of liability are yet to be determined ... (we) have expressed deep remorse, it said in a statement.
The insurer described the situation as totally unacceptable and said the ship stranded after an unexpected gale blew it onto the reef.
Reports of the Solomon Trader crew being absent from the vessel or intoxicated at the time of the grounding are false,” it added.
Rennell Island is the largest raised coral atoll in the world and includes a UNESCO World Heritage site which extends kilometers out to sea.
The islanders rely on waters in the ecologically delicate region for their livelihoods.
Addressing delays in responding to the disaster, KP&I said a tug initially tried to manoeuvre the ship off the reef but poor weather intervened and pushed it further onshore.
It said experts and specialized equipment were now on site from as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Vanuatu, the United States, Singapore and Europe.