Cruise liner dumps oil in Paradise

  • Nov 14, 2006

excerpt from
http://www.sunshinecoastdaily.com.au/storyprint.cfm?storyID=3709346

13.11.2006

P&O PASSENGERS on the Brisbane-based Pacific Star have faced a backlash from Vanuatu locals, furious over allegations the cruise liner has illegally dumped up to 500,000 litres of oil on the island.

News of the mass dumping of engine "sludge" infuriated taxi drivers who went on strike, refusing to transport P&O passengers from the cruise ship terminal to Port Vila and forcing them to walk the 5km into town.

Police and the Vanuatu Maritime Authority are investigating the dumped oil, which is expected to take a month, while local government authorities are calling for harsh fines, totalling $35 million (VUV 3 billion), to be issued.

P&O has apologised for the dumping since it was discovered by Sunshine Coast Daily journalist Michele Sternberg, who visited the Teouma dump site while holidaying on the island.

She said the level of environmental vandalism was "unimaginable".

P&O claims it had no option but to dump the material on the island.

"This is dumping on a massive scale. "

"It appears they've dug deep holes, lined some with a thin plastic and just poured hundreds of thousands of litres of oil in.

"When news broke, someone?s come in and tried to cover some of the oil with dirt but it's still seeping out."

She said the main concern at the picturesque Teouma site was that about 100 villagers lived within 800 metres of the dump site and a school was less than 1km away.

"This area is on the side of a hill and below is a river, which the villagers use for drinking, washing and their children swim in.

"The river is in the direct line of this oil spill."

Pacific Star passengers were horrified to learn of the oil dumping when they arrived in Vanuatu last week, some saying they would boycott P&O in future.

"I would get off now and fly home, except I've paid so much money for this cruise," said one passenger, who did not want to be named.

Port Vila MP Moana Carcasses Kalosil slammed South Sea Shipping for "trying to ruin our island paradise" and called for everyone involved to be prosecuted.

The captain of the P&O Pacific Sky would have been "well aware that Vanuatu is not capable of receiving engine dirty oil", according to Commissioner of Maritime Affairs Less John Napuati.

He said the ports of Apra in Guam, Noumea in New Caledonia, Papeete in French Polynesia and Suva, Vuda Point and Lautoka in Fiji are Regional Ships? Waste Reception Centres. Vanuatu is not.

The cost of oil disposal in nearby Noumea and Fiji is about $US30,000.

P&O is alleged to have paid just $A230 per truckload to dump in Vanuatu.

"The oil spill ... is of high interest to every inhabitant of Vanuatu since such an incident may occur in the future if appropriate measures are not taken," said Mr Napuati.

"All shipping companies and agents operating international shipping in the Pacific have been informed of these arrangements and asked to ensure that all their ships, as far as practicable, limit the disposal of their waste to the designated ports.

"We recommended a company that could remove the (Pacific Star's) waste but not the oil. It was only a recommendation, not an approval that the oil should be dumped."

Port Vila Municipality confirmed the dumping site at Teouma was approved only for sewage disposal and similar wastes.

"Raw sewerage continues to be disposed of here "straight over the top of the dumped oil creating a disgusting, foul-smelling cocktail," said Ms Sternberg.

Ernest Bani, of the Vanuatu Environment Unit, has called for the company to remove all the oil from the dump site.

"We would like to see all the waste oil removed from the site into drums and then to be taken away to the main wharf and ask the company to ship it out of the country," he said.

"I'm very, very concerned because this is putting the health of people at risk, not only the people immediately living around the landfill, but other communities downstream.

"This will have an effect on the crops and people living downstream. "

"I don't think that P&O giving an apology is enough because it doesn't help the situation.

"It's something we can't accept and just saying 'we're sorry' is not good enough."

Vanuatu law provides for the boat to be confiscated and held until a court case settles the matter, according to Michele Kalwarai, Acting Secretary-General of Shefa Provincial Council.

"An international company dumping oil in our land without abiding by our laws is irresponsible and disrespectful of the law of the country," she said.

Meanwhile, a former Pacific Star employee has alleged that he witnessed the dumping of oil at sea from the cruise ship in October 2005, which left a 3km oil slick.

He said that from the casual nature in which the dumping was carried out, it appeared that the practice was not a one-off.

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