Scuttling of Wakashio’s bow progressing slowly as salvors battle rough sea conditions
The sinking of the bow section of the broken up bulker Wakashio off Mauritius, launched on August 21, is progressing slowly but surely as weather conditions continue to hamper the operation.
It usually takes around 24 hours for a vessel’s front section to be completely immersed, however, due to rough sea conditions the sinking had to be suspended on Saturday night.
The operation was resumed on Sunday at a relatively low pace, with salvers resorting to cut holes into the bulkheads of the different cargo hatches to speed up the process.
The bow section of the ill-fated Wakashio had to be removed away from the grounding site, Mathew Sommerville, a representative of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) told a press conference on Wakashio clean-up on Friday.
After careful consideration, it was concluded that leaving the bow where it was, was not an option, Sommerville said.
The decision to tow the bow some eight nautical miles from the outer limit of the reef at 2,000 meters depth and sink it was not taken lightly, as foreign experts on oil spills considered different options.
Repairing the bow for a long-distance tow could have lasted ten days, and still, the implementation of those repairs was difficult to plan and carry out due to scarce resources. It also posed a risk during the tow and repairs for the environment.
The final location for the planned sinking of the bow was chosen based on the input of various parties with the aim of mitigating the impact on the environment and the wild-life as much as possible.
Somerville said that this was a considered operation, where teams of experts, governmental bodies and international partners will monitor every aspect of the sinking and its impact.
“Pumping operations regarding the remaining diesel oil in the engine room of the aft (back) section has been completed. The Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC) containing oil has been air lifted to the Platform Supply Vessel (PSV) Stanford Hawk. Removal of all pollutants such as wood, panels and any floating debris is ongoing,” the National Crisis Committee said in an update on Sunday.
The committee said that an international Invitation To Tender (ITT) for the removal of the aft (back) section of the casualty has already been floated by the Special Casualty Representative.
Meanwhile, oil spill containment measures are continuing, and the operation is getting into the second stage where more scientifically supported monitoring of the impact of the spill will take place.
Around 1,000 tonnes of oil are estimated to have leaked from the wreck, while more than 3,000 tonnes of fuel have been extracted.
The spill is considered the worst in the history of Mauritius, endangering its pristine coasts, the lifeline of its 1.6 billion tourism industry as well as marine life, food security, health, and economy, already hit by the COVID-19 impact.
Twelve local journalists accompanied by two United Nations experts attended the guided visit into the lagoon on Saturday, August 22, 2020 to take stock of the situation in the aftermath of the oil spill. A similar exercise will be carried out shortly for the shoreline and mangroves.
The key in this stage will be understanding the impact of the extent of the spill and not resorting to aggressive techniques in removing oil from delicate wild-life allowing for the natural recovery of flora and fauna, especially the impacted mangroves on the coastline.
Experts agree that cleanup efforts will take some time to plan and carry out, while also monitoring the recovery of affected habitats.
All artisanal booms which have served their purpose are expected to be removed, followed by the redeployment of absorbent booms. Once all risks of contamination are eliminated, an organized and phased withdrawal of other types of booms will be planned.
Clean up activities have been shared between two foreign service providers namely Le Floch Dépollution and Polyeco. The services of additional local fishermen are being enlisted.
A first survey of coral reefs and mangrove forests conducted by Japanese experts in collaboration with the Albion Fisheries Resource Centre, the Mauritius Oceanography Institute, the University of Mauritius and the National Coast Guard has revealed that there has been no disturbance of corals around Ile aux Aigrettes and mangrove areas were impacted by oil in varying levels.
Nevertheless, the survey found observed turbidity around Ile aux Aigrettes could be caused by ship grounding and that ropes attached to the booms were impacting corals.
“Results of the surveys will be used as a reference for the cleanup and cleaning of mangrove forests will be prioritized. A guideline will be developed for monitoring of the area so as not to further harm these sensitive areas,” an update from the National Crisis Committee reads.
“A sensitization campaign will be organized with the communities with regards to access to the mangrove forests areas so as not to cause any further damage.”
The Wakashio has compulsory insurance under the 2001 Bunkers Convention concerning all material damage and pollution claims up to the applicable limits in accordance with relevant instruments (including LLMC) and national legislation in force.
Hence, the maximum compensation for economic losses and costs of reinstatement of the environment would be about $ 65.17 million, according to UNCTAD.
If it were an oil tanker, the applicable International Oil Pollution Compensation Funds regime could have provided compensation of up to $ 286 million.
An investigation into the grounding and subsequent split of the vessel into two is being investigated.
The Master and Chief Officer of Wakashio have been arrested by local authorities on charges of jeopardizing the safety of navigation.
The ship, owned and managed by Nagashiki Shipping, is chartered by Mistui O.S.K. Lines. Wakashio went aground off Mauritius on July 25, and the bunker oil has leaked out on August 6, and the vessel broke apart on August 15.