Giant grounded bulker spills fuel oil off Mauritius

Fuel oil has started to wash ashore from the leaking bulk carrier MV Wakashio that ran aground off Mauritius coast on July 25, raising fears of an environmental disaster.

Image from Drone footage by Reuben Pillay

The Mauritian environment ministry confirmed in a statement on Thursday that there was a breach in the vessel and that oil was leaking.

“We are in an environmental crisis situation,” Al Jazeera quoted Environment Minister Kavy Ramano as saying during a news conference.

As informed, the country is ill-equipped to handle the situation, as it has never been faced with an incident of such proportions.

A total environmental catastrophe looms should the state of the vessel deteriorate and result in the sinking or breaking up of the wreck.

The Capesize sprung a leak following a breach in the ship’s hull.

The Panama-flagged ship is carrying 200 tonnes of diesel and 3,800 tonnes of bunker fuel, and is not loaded with cargo. It had 20 crew members on board when it got grounded.

The oil spill is being reported as the local authorities failed to stabilize the wreck, which shifted position on several occasions since the grounding, accounts from local fishermen indicate.

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MV Wakashio, owned by Okiyo Maritime Corporation Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd., ran aground on the reef of Pointe d’Esny, close to the marine park of Blue Bay.

The bulk carrier measures around 300 meters in length and 50 meters in width.

The oil spill comes just days after Mauritius National Assembly was told that the ship was stable and that there was no damage to the deck or bunker tanks.

The Ministry of Blue Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping said that the bunker tanks were in sound condition and located well above the bottom of the vessel, adding that there was a low risk of oil pollution.

The salavage team from SMIT was hired to salvage the ship, and following an inspection of the vessel on August 1, the salvage master said there was only internal leakage in the ship with low risk of an oil spill.

The initial plan was to pump the fuel from the wreck to another vessel and try to refloat the ship and remove it from the area.

However, due to bad weather conditions transfer of fuel oil to another ship was said to be dangerous and was postponed.

Two of the planned four tugs with antipollution equipment were already on-site, with the remaining two set to join them in the upcoming days.

Fence booms were also deployed at the site.