Sea life around Mauritius dying as Japanese tanker oil spill spreads

Country braces for worst as MV Wakashio holds 2,000 tonnes of oil and may break up

Oil drifting ashore over coral reefs from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship run aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius.

Oil drifting ashore over coral reefs from the MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned Panama-flagged bulk carrier ship run aground off the southeast coast of Mauritius.

 

Mauritian volunteers fished dead eels from oily waters on Tuesday as they tried to clean up damage to the Indian Ocean island’s most pristine beaches after a Japanese bulk carrier leaked an estimated 1,000 tonnes of oil.

The ship, MV Wakashio, owned by Nagashiki Shipping and operated by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd, struck a coral reef on the southeast coast of Mauritius on July 25th, and began leaking oil last week, raising fears of a major ecological crisis.

Activists told Reuters that dead eels were floating in the water and dead starfish washed in the sticky black liquid. Crabs and seabirds are also dying.

“We don’t know what may happen further with the boat, it may crack more,” said clean-up volunteer Yvan Luckhun.

The MV Wakashio was still holding some 2,000 tonnes of oil and it was expected to eventually break up, Mauritian prime minister Pravind Jugnauth said late on Monday, warning that the country must brace for the worst.

State of emergency

Tourism is a key part of the Mauritius economy and the government, which has declared a state of emergency due to the spill, is working with former colonial ruler France to try to remove the oil.

The spill has set back two decades worth of restoring the natural wildlife and plants in the lagoon, which started after the government banned sand harvesting in the area in 2000, said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, a non-governmental organisation.

MV Wakashio is expected to break in two. Photograph: Sumeet Mudhoo/L’Express Maurice/AFP
MV Wakashio is expected to break in two. Photograph: Sumeet Mudhoo/L’Express Maurice/AFP

The fragmentation of the oil in the sea is expected to damage corals when the heavier particles in the oil settle on them, he said, adding that the steps taken by the government to prevent the disaster are also being scrutinised.

“There is some anger and some criticism from civil society that the government may have taken too much time to respond,” he said. The ship was grounded for nearly two weeks before it started leaking oil.

Technical advice

There was no immediate comment from Mauritian government officials.

Mitsui OSK Lines said in statement: “We will do our utmost towards resolving the situation quickly.”

The company said it had sent six employees to the site and was considering sending more, along with transport supplies. The deployed staff were tested for coronavirus before being sent. The International Maritime Organisation, a UN agency that regulates shipping, said it had joined international efforts to help Mauritius tackle the oil spill by providing technical advice and co-ordinating the response.

Other international organisations were also mobilising environmental and oil spill experts.

The MV Wakashio passed an annual inspection in March without any problems, Japan’s ClassNK inspection body said on Tuesday.

The 300m-long vessel was en route to Brazil from China when it ran ashore off the southeastern coast of Mauritius. – Reuters