Mauritius Oil Spill: Story Of Wrecked MV Wakashio

It’s nearly a month after Japanese bulk carrier, ran aground on a coral reef and leaked hundreds of tonnes of fuel oil into the Mauritius coast, forcing the island nation to declare a national emergency, break up on Saturday.

Oil from the M V Wakashio, a Japanese Ship seeped into the Mauritius coastal water. (Image Source: CroudFund.mu)

What caused Mauritius oil spill?

A Japanese ship named M V Wakashio, which is owned by Nagashiki Shipping and operated by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd, ran aground into a coral reef at Pointe d’Esny on July 25, resulting in an oil spill of over 1,000 tonnes into the Indian Ocean. The ship began to leak oil the following week (August 6) and was estimated to be carrying around 4,000 tonnes of oil, causing an ecological emergency in Mauritius.

On August 7, Akihiko Ono, executive vice president of Mitsui OSK Lines, said at a news conference in Tokyo: “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused.” They also confirmed they would do everything in power to resolve the issue.

How did the island nation respond?

The Mauritius authorities, along with local volunteers, organized a clean-up operation to control the spill, minimize its impact, and isolate environmentally sensitive areas of the coast and lagoon, before the foreign countries extended their helping hand to pump out an estimated 3,890 tons of oil remaining on board.

Nearly two weeks after the incident, on August 7, the Mauritian Government declared it a national emergency.

However, the clean-up effort had to be halted by August 10 due to high winds and waves. By then, around 1,200 tonnes of oil seeped into the ocean and to the lagoon, stated the operator Mitsui OSK Lines.

Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth had said that a visible crack in the hull of the ship led to concerns that the ship might “break in two.” He further added that 3,000 tons of oil had been pumped out of the ship’s fuel reservoirs. Fuel from the ship has been transferred to shore by helicopter and to another vessel owned by the same Japanese firm, Nagashiki Shipping.

The Mauritius’s environment minister Kavy Ramano, together with the fisheries minister, said that this was the first time the nation had to face such a catastrophe that they were insufficiently equipped to deal with.

On Friday, some residual oil of about 116 tones seeped into the ocean, said the authorities of the Mauritius Marine Conservation Society. The Mauritius National Crisis Committee stated the condition of the Japanese-owned ship worsened early on Sunday (August 15) and split in half by the afternoon.

On August 16, an IAF aircraft landed in Port Louis with 30T of specialized equipment, along with 10-members Indian Coastal Guard‘s Technical Response Team were sent to assist Mauritius in its ongoing oil spill containment and salvage operations.

The Mauritius requested compensation for the spill from Wakashio owner Nagashiki Shipping, for the damage caused by the oil spill.

Investigation report so far:

According to investigators, the crew members(outsourced from Anglo-Eastern Ship Management Ltd.) were engaged in a birthday in celebration of a sailor on board at the time of grounding. The ship sailed near shore for a Wi-fi signal, and subsequently failed to respond to communications to Wakashio warning of the errant course.

On August 18, the ship’s captain, Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, 58, an Indian national, was arrested. According to news reports, he will be held in police custody till August 25.

How unfortunate is spillage to the environment?

Ursa Space Systems, a US analytics company, assessed the situation using radar data from the Finnish Iceye satellites, which are especially effective at picking out oil on water. According to data published by Finnish Iceye satellites indicated the spill had increased from 3.3 km2 (1.3 sq mi) on August 6 to 27 km2 (10 sq mi) on August 11.

Mauritius oil spill: Story of Wrecked MV Wakashio
Finnish Iceye satellites indicated the Oil spill in Mauritius island had increased from 3.3 km2 (1.3 sq mi) on August 6 to 27 km2 (10 sq mi) on August 11. (Image Source:

Satellite images show the oil spill stretched out between the mainland at Pointe D’Esny and the island of Ile-aux-Aigrettes.

According to Vassen Kauppaymuthoo, an Oceanographer and environmental engineer, more than 50 per cent of the lagoon is filled with rich biodiversity and environmentally sensitive areas, which are under danger.

Experts warn that flakes of the damaged anti-fouling coating on the hull can also poison the marine fauna and flora on the reef and surroundings in a similar fashion as to the Great Barrier Reef.

How oil spill will affect Mauritius?

Tourism plays a vital role in pumping money into the economy of the island nation. An estimated amount of about 63 billion Mauritian rupees (1.59 billion US dollars) was spent in 2019, for marine scenery and animals, which are now likely to be endangered by the oil spill.

Mauritius is a rich-biodiversity hotspot with a high concentration of plants, animals, and marine life unique to the region. The wind and the water currents are taking the oil towards areas that have vital marine ecosystems.

According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the Mauritian marine environment is home to 1,700 species, including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals, and two turtles species.

Coral reefs, seagrasses, mangroves, entire mudflats, sea sand, and dunes make the Mauritian waters exceptionally rich in biodiversity.

Greenpeace Africa, an independent environmental campaigning organization, also warned that “thousands” of animal species were “at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dreadful consequences for Mauritius’s economy, food security, and health.”

Mauritius oil spill to those around the world

According to a BBC news report, rather than the size of the oil spill, it was the area where it happened, which was a cause for concern. The accident occurred near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park Reserve, a wetland of international importance. Although there was no loss to human lives, the environmental consequences have been mortifying, as heavy fuel oil leaked into the natural, species-rich waters of the park, with unspoiled coral reefs mangrove forests.

Experts say that the amount of oil spilled from the to the ship nearby lagoons and coastal areas of south-east Mauritius is relatively low compared to the other oil spills the world has seen in the past. However, the damage it will cause is going to be immense and long-lasting, as unlike previous offshore spills, this has taken place near two environmentally protected areas.

They also added that the toxic hydrocarbons released from spilled oil would bleach the coral reefs, and they will eventually die.

The beautiful turquoise waters of the blue lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahébourg in Mauritius, the backdrop for numerous Bollywood movies, are now colored black and brown.

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