Mauritius oil spill: More than 1,000 tonnes leak into sea as ship splits into two, fuels environmental crisis

On July 25, a Japanese ship named MV Wakashio ran aground after hitting the coral reef at Pointe d'Esny, off the southeastern coast of Mauritius


                            Mauritius oil spill: More than 1,000 tonnes leak into sea as ship splits into two, fuels environmental crisis
(Getty Images)

An oil spill has occurred in the pristine and ecologically sensitive waters of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean. The Japanese tanker carrying the fuel has recently split into two and more than 1,000 tonnes of oil has drained out of the ship since last week. The incident could scar the country and its rich biodiversity, experts have warned.

On July 25, the Japanese ship named MV Wakashio ran aground after hitting the coral reef at Pointe d'Esny, off the southeastern coast of Mauritius. The tanker was carrying a cargo of 4,290 tons of low-sulfur fuel oil, 228 tons of diesel, and 99 tons of lubricant oil, to its destination, Brazil. Close to about 3,000 tonnes of oil have been pumped out of the ship. 

The oil leak did not begin until August 6, spreading toward Mauritius' blue lagoons, an international tourist hotspot. Maxar Technologies, a US-based company, released satellite images of the devastation, showing plumes of black oil moving northwest toward the shore. "This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind, and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem," Sudheer Maudhoo, the fishing minister of Mauritius, told The New York Times.

Mauritius is home to plants and animals that are unique to the region, making it a biodiversity hotspot. According to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, 1,700 species, including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals, and two species of turtles inhabit the island nation. The coral reefs, seagrasses, and mangroves make Mauritius waters extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, they said.

In this image, captured on August 11 by the Copernicus Sentinel-2 mission, the MV Wakashio, visible in the bottom of the image, is stranded close to Pointe d’Esny, an important wetland area (ESA)

In an open letter, Greenpeace, a non-governmental organization, blamed Nagashiki Shipping -- the company that owns the MV Wakashio -- for causing an environmental crisis and putting the biodiversity within the lagoons at significant risk, including the mangrove forests and many unique and endangered species. "Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security, and health," Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate, and Energy Campaign Manager, said in a statement. He called for international efforts to clean up the spill.

Bad weather, and constant pounding over the past few days have breached the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel, causing fuel to escape into the sea. "Nagashiki Shipping takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and with partner agencies and contractors will make every effort to protect the marine environment and prevent further pollution," the company said in a statement.

As of August 15, the rescue team has extracted more than 800 tonnes of oil liquid waste and more than 300 tonnes of solid waste sludge and debris from the ocean. The Mauritius government will seek compensation for the damage and clean up efforts, reports have suggested. "This oil spill is a tragic and devastating reminder that fossil fuels are toxic, and our reliance on them puts both people and the planet at risk. Now is the time to build a better future, and urgent action must be taken," Greenpeace wrote in the letter.

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