Mauritius Faces Environmental Crisis as Shipwreck Spills Oil in Waters
The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius is facing a grave environmental threat as a Japanese-owned ship, which had run aground in July, began to spill oil in open waters. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has declared a “state of environmental emergency” after satellite images revealed a dark slick spreading through the turquoise waters near environmentally sensitive regions, including Blue Bay Marine Park.
According to the government, the ship was carrying nearly 4,000 tonnes of fuels, which has started spilling out on the sea after cracks have broken through the ship’s hull. The government has sought help from France, citing that the spill represents an imminent danger for the country of around 1.3 million people.
⚠️ Catastrophe écologique en cours à l’Île Maurice. Le MV Wakashio, un vraquier japonais transportant 200 tonnes de diesel et 3 800 tonnes de fuel, s’est échoué sur le récif le 26 juillet. Les autorités ont confirmé que du fuel s’échappe d’une fissure dans la coque. pic.twitter.com/jpn4tV8x2W
— Hugo Clément (@hugoclement) August 6, 2020
The prime minister said,
Our country doesn’t have the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships. Bad weather has made it impossible to act, and I worry what could happen Sunday when the weather deteriorates.
Online ship trackers disclosed that the Panama-flagged bulk carrier had been en route from China to Brazil. Meanwhile, France’s Foreign Ministry has said that France is Mauritius’s “leading foreign investor” and one of its largest trading partners. The French island of Reunion is the closest neighbor to Mauritius.
A French statement released on Saturday said that a military transport aircraft would transport pollution control equipment to Mauritius and a navy vessel with supplementary material would set sail for the island nation.
With the efforts of slowing down the spill, the cracks in the hull were detected. A rescue team had been working on the ship was evacuated. Around 400 sea booms have been installed in an effort to contain the spill.
Reportedly, the ship ran aground on July 25, however, the National Coast Guard received no distress call.
The incident took place at Pointe d’Esny, which is listed under the Ramsar Convention on wetlands of international importance and is near the marine park of Blue Bay.
The ship’s owners were registered as the Japanese companies Okiyo Maritime Corporation and Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd. A statement by Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd. said that due to the bad weather, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been ruptured and an amount of fuel oil has spilled into the sea.
Nagashiki Shipping takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and with partner agencies and contractors will make every effort to protect the marine environment and prevent further pollution.
It said in a statement.
Absolutely shattered by the ecological crisis faced by Mauritius. These pictures of the oil spill, wrecking our most beautiful lagoons, were taken by my friend Eric Villars on his flight to Rodrigues this morning. #mauritius #oilspill #wakashio #bluebay #coralreefs #marinepark pic.twitter.com/DRTLthCZw1
— Priya Hein (@PriyaHein) August 7, 2020
Environmental group Greenpeace Africa‘s climate and energy manager Happy Khambule said in a statement that tons of diesel and oil is spilling into the aquatic habitat, polluting it.
Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security and health.
According to a government environmental outlook released nearly a decade ago, Mauritius had a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, which, sadly, only deals with oil spills of less than 10 metric tonnes. In the case of major spills, the country must seek aid from other Indian Ocean countries or from international oil spill response organizations.
Environmentalists are afraid that the ship could break up, which would lead to an even greater leak and cause potentially catastrophic damage on the island’s coastline. The country mostly depends on its seas for food and tourism, and has some of the finest coral reefs in the world.
Update ( August 13, 2020):
Amid fears that the ship would break up, an operation to pump the spilled fuel out of the waters was carried out. According to Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, almost all the fuel oil from the Japanese-owned ship that has caused a huge oil spill off the coast of Mauritius has been pumped out.
The fuel has been transferred to shore by helicopter and to another ship owned by the same Japanese firm, Nagashiki Shipping. Meanwhile, France has sent a military aircraft with pollution-control equipment from its nearby island of Réunion, while Japan has sent a six-member team to assist the French efforts.
Update (August 28, 2020):
At least 40 dolphins have died in an area of Mauritius affected by an oil spill from a Japanese boat. Environmentalists have demanded an investigation into whether the dolphins were killed as a result of the spill from the ship, which was scuttled after running aground in July and leaking oil.
Apparently, the death toll may rise. Between 25 and 30 dead dolphins were seen floating in the lagoon this week, among scores of the animals that fishermen were trying to herd away from the pollution.