Mauritius has declared a state of emergency in response to a worsening oil spill offshore and is seeking international assistance.
A bulk carrier, the MW Wakashio, was carrying nearly 4,200 tonnes of fuel when it ran aground on the Point d’Esny reef, on July 25. The ship was carrying 3,894 tonnes of low-sulphur fuel oil, 207 tonnes of diesel and 90 tonnes of lubricant oil.
A statement from the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said the spill was near ecologically sensitive areas. The Point d’Esny wetlands are a site of international importance.
Attempts to salvage the ship and stem the leak have been complicated by poor weather.
The oil spill is an an “unprecedented environmental situation as the vessel has grounded in a very sensitive zone”, said Mauritian Minister of Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change Kavydass Ramano.
Shipowner Nagashiki Shipping Co. said it had found a crack on the starboard side of the engine room on August 6. This led to the fuel oil spill. The company said it would do its utmost to work with Mauritius and Japanese organisations in order to “extract the fuel oil remaining on the ship, collect the spilled oil, and safely remove the ship”.
Satellite data from UNOSAT show a 0.23 square km oil spill as of August 6. The United Nations programme said a “significant impact potentially detected” at the site, with an impact on coral reefs and the marine environment.
Tackle the spread
The Mauritian government has deployed 400 sea booms around the area in an attempt to prevent the dispersal of oil. The government has called on private maritime operators to work together to limit the spread.
Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said the sinking of the board was a “danger” for the local people. The country is heavily reliant on tourism. On August 7, the prime minister said he had asked France for help, as Mauritius lacks the ability to control the problem.
Le naufrage du #Wakashio représente un danger pour l'île Maurice. Notre pays n’a pas les compétences et l’expertise pour le renflouage des navires échoués, c’est ainsi que j’ai sollicité l’aide de la #France à @EmmanuelMacron. pic.twitter.com/30m2pQzEy4
— Pravind Jugnauth (@PKJugnauth) August 7, 2020
French President Emmanuel Macron responded, saying there was an urgent need to act in order to protect biodiversity. “France is there,” Macron said. The country will provide support from La Reunion.
A statement from the French authorities in La Reunion said they had activated a crisis unit. They also sent a military transport aircraft carried out surveillance of the problem, while a French patrol boat set sail. The ship was carrying additional equipment, including offshore booms.
India is providing technical support.
A salvage team of 11 had been working to secure the ship. The team left ahead of poor weather, which was expected on August 9.