Photo: Wakashio aft; Image courtesy: Mobilisation Nationale Wakashio

BP denounces involvement in Wakashio oil spill

 British multinational oil and gas company BP has denounced media reports alleging the company was involved in the grounding of the bulk carrier Wakashio off Mauritius in July 2020 causing a massive oil spill.

The bulk carrier Wakashio, chartered by MOL from a subsidiary of Nagashiki Shipping Co., ran aground off the island of Mauritius on July 25 and leaked bunker oil on August 6.

Around 1,000 tonnes of oil are estimated to have leaked from the wreck, in what is considered the worst oil spill in the history of Mauritius.

The report claims that BP bunkered unsafe very low sulfur fuel oil to Wakashio before its final voyage causing the ship to experience a serious engine failure.

The alleged engine failure was reportedly the reason behind the crew’s decision to sail the ship closer to the shore, which resulted in the grounding of the bulker.

“BP absolutely rejects the baseless allegations and insinuations contained in this article,” the company said in a statement.

The firm confirmed that on July 14 it supplied fuel oil to Wakashio in Singapore. The fuel was sold to Mitsui OSK Ltd (MOL), the charterer of the vessel.

“This is the limit of bp’s involvement with the vessel and the voyage in question.

“The fuel supplied – very low sulphur fuel oil, or VLSFO – fully met the specified standard that is recognised across the international bunkering industry (International Maritime Organisation (IMO) standard ISO-8217-2020).

“This was confirmed by separate analyses carried out by bp and an independent inspection company appointed by MOL. MOL raised no concerns about the quality of the oil, nor have the operators of seven other vessels that received the same fuel. A number of the properties of the oil that are alleged in the article do not correspond with these analyses.”

Furthermore, the company added it was not aware of anything to indicate that fuel quality contributed to the vessel’s grounding.

“Indeed, initial investigations reported on ship operator MOL’s website in December 2020 point explicitly to safety and navigation issues as the probable cause. They make no reference to mechanical issues.”

The probable cause of the devastating grounding and oil spill from Wakashio off Mauritius are unsafe behaviors due to overconfidence that stems from complacency, Japanese shipowner MOL said in December 2020.

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Based on the information the shipowner obtained from the crew members, two days before the grounding of Wakashio, the vessel changed her passage plan-the distance from the coast when sailing off the island of Mauritius-from 22 nautical miles to 5 nautical miles.

On the day of the grounding, the crew tried to further reduce the distance from the coast from 5 nautical miles to 2 nautical miles, to enter an area within the communication range of mobile phones and used a nautical chart without sufficient scale to confirm the accurate distance from the coast and water depth.

In addition, a crewmember neglected appropriate watch-keeping (visually and by radar), even though the ship was trying to sail 2 nautical miles off the coast. As a result, Wakashio ran aground in shallow water (10m deep) 0.9 nautical miles off the coast of Mauritius.

Similar findings were released following a preliminary investigation by the Panama Maritime Authority which said that the bulker diverted from its navigation route approaching closer to the coast of the island as the crew was trying to pick up an Internet signal.

As disclosed, the captain of the ill-fated bulker ordered the change of course and instructed the ship to approach 5 miles away from the coast.

BP insists that it had not hindered or impeded any investigation into the grounding.

“We received requests for information on the fuel from Australian and Singapore authorities. We referred the Australian authority to MOL, which has the results of the analysis carried out on the oil by the independent inspection company, and we provided the Singapore authority with the results of bp’s own analysis. We did not receive follow-up requests from these authorities and are not aware of requests from any other authorities,” the company added.

MOL plans to invest the equivalent of about JPY 500 million ($4.8 million) in measures to prevent the reoccurrence of probable causes of the incident. These should include addressing the lack of safety awareness and lack of awareness of regulations on safe navigation and insufficient performance as well as enhancing ship operation quality.

Wakashio’s bow was sent out to its final resting place on August 24 2020 following a scuttling operation that saw the ship’s front sunk in Mauritian waters.

Chinese rescue and salvage company Lianyungang Dali Underwater Engineering has won a contract to remove the stern section of the Wakashio bulker from a reef off Mauritius’ coast.

The work on the removal of the wreck’s stern is expected to complete in the spring of 2021, according to Nagashiki Shipping.