Image credit: marineinsight.com

Mauritius is on the brink of an ecological disaster after a Japanese vessel MVWakashio ran aground off the southeastern coast of the island of Mauritius on 25 July 2020. The 300-meter long vessel was en route to Brazil from China carrying over 3,800 tons of Very Low Sulphur Fuel Oil and 200 tons of diesel oil.

After one of the five fuel tanks struck the coral reef and ruptured, over 1,180 tones of fuel leaked into the ocean, raising fears of an ecological crisis.

A cleanup operation has been launched, including efforts from volunteers and locals, resulting in the manual removal of about 460 tons of oil from the sea and coast. A state of emergency has also been declared by Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth, as the tourism-based economy prepares for the impact of such an environmental disaster.

The ship is owned by Nagashiki Shipping and operated by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. According to a statement issued by Nagashiki: “Due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea. Oil prevention measures are in place and an oil boom has been deployed around the vessel…”

According to a CNN report, conservationists at the scene say it is too early to assess the extent of environmental damage however, there are growing concerns for the livelihoods of thousands of local people who rely
heavily on fishing and tourism.

Making the situation even more dire is the increasing risk that the ship could split in two, causing more oil to leak into the ocean. In response Nagashiki has contracted a “specialist oil response and salvage team” to work with Mauritian authorities.

A statement from the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation details the impact on the Ile aux Aigrettes area. “We have presently taken precautionary measures to minimise the impact on the fauna and flora of this restored nature reserve, home of a population of Mauritius Fodies, Olive White-eyes, Pink Pigeons, Telfair Skinks, Guenther’s geckos and Aldabra tortoises to name only a few.

“The other South East islets, Ile de la Passe, Ilot Vacoas and Ile aux fouquets have also been affected and our reptile teams are working securing small populations of lesser night geckos, Bojer and Bouton skinks from these islets.”

The oil has seeped into the scenic Mahebourg Lagoon, an area undergoing rejuvenation since 2001, when the government banned sand extraction from the lagoon. Marine life had started to return and corals were slowly growing before the spill.

Investigations into liability are ongoing as the extent of the disaster becomes clear. However, it seems an apology from the operator might not be enough to quell the heated reaction from environmental activists or the world at large. This will certainly place another nail in the fossil fuel coffin, as intolerance grows for ‘crimes against the climate’.

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