Two weeks after the bulk carrier Wakashio ran aground on the eastern shore of Mauritius the island nation is being confronted with a growing environmental disaster. Fuel oil leaking from the ship is spreading in the water, fouling the marine life, and reaching the environmentally sensitive shoreline.
In the days after 200,000 DWT ship first went ashore on July 25, government officials had reported no breach of the hull or reports of oil in the water. Rescue tugs had arrived in Mauritius but were confronted with heavy seas that prevented them from reaching the scene and undertaking a full assessment of the situation. According to the vessel’s owners, Nagashiki Shipping Co., the salvage teams and crew started pumping operations in areas onboard the vessel that had suffered water ingress. The water was being pumped from damaged areas and stored in tanks on board to lessen the chance of pollution.
Those same high seas however caused a rupture in one or more of the ship’s starboard fuel tanks. Pictures have begun to appear on social media showing visible breaches in the hull as well as the oil in the water and onshore. At the time of the grounding, the ship was running empty from China to Brazil carrying approximately 3,800 tons of fuel oil, 200 tons of diesel, and 90 tons of lube oil.
An international response is underway trying to contain the oil and prevent the environmental impact from continuing to grow. Before the breaches, the government of Mauritius reported that efforts were underway to place nearly 1,000 feet of barriers near the entrance to the nearby Blue Bay Marine Park as well as more than 1,600 feet of barriers around the vessel. Mauritius' minister of the environment reported that 400 further booms were deployed in sensitive areas when the first oil leak was detected. The government is hoping that the oil can be pumped from the vessel to stop the current leaks.
Smit Salvage Pty was retained to work on the situation and the first support vessel, the PSV Stanford Hawk, arrived in Mauritius on July 30 followed by a tug the Fujairah on August 3 and other vessels were reported en route to the site. Also the vessel’s owner Nagashiki and Mitsui O.S.K. Lines, which was the vessel’s charter, are both providing support as well as monitoring from Japan.
The efforts however have also been hampered by the coronavirus. The salvage teams are being required to test for the virus when they arrive in Mauritius before they can proceed to the site. In addition, the crew from the Wakashio was being tested for the virus. Ten crew members were initially being transferred to shore and now reports indicate that all 20 were removed from the vessel for their safety.
Environmental groups are also beginning to respond to the disaster attempting to protect the marine life and seeking contributions for the future remediation efforts that will be required. Help is also coming in from overseas including from nearby Reunion Island as well as countries including India.
“We are in an environmental crisis situation,” Mauritius’ minister of the environment told a local press briefing. He also said that the government was launching a full investigation into the cause of the accident and promised an initial report within two months.