Mauritius Oil Spill: Volunteers plug leak from massive damaged ship; residents brace for 'worst case scenario', ecological impact to follow

Clean-up crews, volunteers are scrambling to contain the ecological disaster, with further damage to the ship expected due to bad weather.

tech2 News Staff August 11, 2020 11:48:52 IST
Mauritius Oil Spill: Volunteers plug leak from massive damaged ship; residents brace for 'worst case scenario', ecological impact to follow

A grounded ship off the coast of Mauritius has leaked tonnes of crude oil into the island's clear waters. Clean-up crews and volunteers have been scrambling to contain the ecological disaster by cordoning the oil from spreading towards the island, and have successfully stemmed the leak.

The MV Wakashio ship's hull struck a coral reef off the island on 25 July, and it has been aground ever since, but only began leaking oil over the past few days, BBC reported. The ship has roughly 4,000 tonnes of oil, of which close to 2,000 tonnes is thought to have seeped into the Indian Ocean waters near Mauritius.

The nation's Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said the leak from a damaged oil tank on board the stuck vessel had stopped but that the ship still had 2,000 tonnes of oil in two other, undamaged tanks.

"The salvage team has observed several cracks in the ship hull, which means that we are facing a very serious situation," Jugnauth said in a televised speech, parts of which were made available to Reuters. "We should prepare for a worst-case scenario. It is clear that at some point the ship will fall apart."

Diving centres, fishermen and others are party to the clean-up effort, with guest houses on the island now offering free accommodation to volunteers and hair salons offering discounts to those donating hair – one of the resources being used in the undertaking, as per the report. The government is also using sea booms to control the spill, and vacuuming the oil floating on the surface.

Mauritius Oil Spill Volunteers plug leak from massive damaged ship residents brace for worst case scenario ecological impact to follow

As per this 9 August photo, oil is still leaking out of the MV Wakashio after running aground on a coral reef. Image credit: French Defense Ministry/AP

The site of the leak is at Pointe d'Esny, a region of Mauritius home to a wealth of sanctuaries for rare and endemic wildlife, and a marine park with pristine protected coral reefs, mangrove forests and endangered species, the report said. Residents and conservationists have reported seeing the early impacts of the spill on the local wildlife.

“We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued,” said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, a non-governmental organization.

Experts have warned that the unprecedented damage caused to the fragile coastal ecosystem of Mauritius will likely also impact its economy. Mauritius and its residents depend primarily on its seas for food and tourism. Mauritius has maintained its reputation as a conservation success, and one of the top global destinations for nature lovers. The spill threatens to permanently destroy the already fragile marine ecosystem at the heart of global ecotourism.

The Mauritian PM declared the spill an "environmental emergency" and call for international help to help contain the damage. He thanked France for sending a naval vessel, military aircraft and technical experts from the nearby French island of Reunion, to assist with the disaster.

Jugnauth is also said to have convened a crisis committee meeting to plan for the forecast of bad weather, which could further complicate efforts to stem the spill from any further structural damage to the vessel. Ecologists have warned that if the ship breaks, the potential damage to the coastline – and the island nation's economy – could be catastrophic.

Mauritius Oil Spill Volunteers plug leak from massive damaged ship residents brace for worst case scenario ecological impact to follow

Oil polluting the foreshore on the eastern side of Mauritius, after it leaked from the MV Wakashio. Image credit: Sunil Dowarkasing via AP

The MV Wakashio is owned by Nagashiki Shipping Company, and operated by Japanese transport company Mitsui OSK Lines. Mitsui said it had tried to place its own containment booms around the vessel but had not been successful owing to rough seas. Mitsui could come under heavy fire for its role in the accident, according to Nikkei Asian Review.

The company, which operates an 800-vessel fleet, said it wanted to respond appropriately, given the massive, growing, impact the spill will have in the local environment.

"We don't know the full extent of the harm yet, so we don't know what such payments would even look like," Kiyoaki Nagashiki, President of Nagashiki Shipping Company told Asian Review.

"We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused," Akihiko Ono, executive vice president at Mitsui said in a news conference, according to the report.

An expert has said that the payment for damages will likely be made by the ship's owner, the Nagashiki Shipping Company, and capped somewhere between 2 and 7 billion yen (1.4 to 5 billion INR) for a ship the size of Wakashio.

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