Mauritius declares ‘state of environmental emergency’ as damaged bulker could break in two

Mauritius’ Prime Minister, Pravind Jugnauth, has declared a “state of environmental emergency” after Wakashio, a Japanese bulker that ran aground off the coast of the island nation, began spilling oil.

Mauritius' Ministry of Environment/Twitter

Jugnauth said that the sinking of the vessel “represents a danger” for the people of Mauritius, according to the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

As its starboard side bunker tank has been breached “due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days”, the Capesize bulk carrier is now leaking tonnes of diesel and bunker fuel into the Indian Ocean. At least 1,000 tonnes of fuel is believed to have leaked into the ocean so far.

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The Prime Minister warned that the damaged ship could split in half, leading to a large-scale ecological and economic disaster, Al Jazeera reported.

Wakashio was carrying nearly 4,200 metric tonnes of fuel when it grounded on the reef of Point d’Esny on 25 July, including low-sulphur fuel oil (3,894 MT), diesel (207 MT) and lubricant oil (90 MT). The ship is located near ecologically sensitive and important areas, including the Point d’Esny Wetlands, Ile aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve, Blue Bay Marine Area and Mahebourg Fishing Reserves.

Greenpeace: This is one of the most terrible ecological crises ever

“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. Greenpeace Africa stands with affected Mauritian coastal communities and calls on the UN and all governments to support Mauritius’ cleaning efforts,” Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager, said.

The current oil spill on the reef near Pointe d’Esny on the south east coast of the Mauritian island is likely one of the most terrible ecological crises ever seen on the small island country,” Greenpeace Africa stated.

According to reports that Greenpeace Africa had received, on 5 August residents from Pointe d’Esny were already warning that the ship was sinking.

“There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels,” Khambule added.

Salvage efforts hampered by inclement weather

The government claims it is taking all necessary actions to contain the oil spill from the MV Wakashio. Some 400 sea booms have been deployed to secure the sensitive areas, and additional sea booms are being used following the detection of cracks in the ship hull, according to Minister of Environment, Solid Waster Management and Climate Change, Kavydass Ramano.

A command post has been set up to monitor the situation and the Minister has appealed to all private maritime operators to join forces so as to limit the spread of the spill.

A salvage team of eleven members was working to secure and stabilise the ship but had to be evacuated due to cracks in the ship hull and poor weather conditions. Meanwhile, the Mauritius Government’s Director of Shipping, Alain Donat, informed that necessary equipment has been sent from Greece to assist in the pumping of fuel.

The Government of Mauritius has called for international support to respond to the crisis including personnel, equipment and experts in oil spill combat, pollution monitoring, environmental protection, and evaluation of damages to the environment. Several countries already sent help to tackle the oil spill.

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The 2007-built Wakashio is owned by Japan-based Nagashiki Shipping and time chartered to Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL).

In a statement, Nagashiki said it “takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and will take every effort with partner agencies and contractors to protect the marine environment and prevent further pollution”.

“The situation is being closely monitored and in view of poor sea conditions, salvage efforts are currently on hold… The cause of the incident will be fully investigated, and the owner/manager will continue to work closely with the authorities to determine the cause.”