A disaster of enormous proportion is unfolding in the Indian Ocean Republic of Mauritius. The country just overcame Coronavirus, and an environmental challenge may set the island nation back. eTN reader Ibrahim is working with SKAL Mauritius on a response from the Mauritius tourism industry.
The MV Wakashio oil spill occurred offshore Pointe d’Esny, south of Mauritius from 25 July 2020 around 16:00 UTC, when MV Wakashio, a bulk carrier owned by a Japanese company, but flying under a Panamanian flag of convenience, ran aground off the southern coast of the island of Mauritius, at estimated coordinates
The accident generated the gradual spill of part of the 4,000 tons of diesel and fuel oil that the ship was carrying. Mauritius Authorities were trying to control the spill and mitigate its effects, isolating sensitive areas of the coast that include important reserves of marine fauna and flora, while waiting for help from foreign countries to achieve pumping out of the ship about 3,890 tons estimated to remain on board, and filter through the cracks in the hull.
The island’s environment minister Kavy Ramano, together with the fisheries minister, told the press that it was the first time that the country faced a catastrophe of this magnitude and that they were insufficiently equipped to handle the problem.
The large bulk carrier has since begun leaking tons of fuel into the surrounding waters. Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared the state of emergency late on Friday.
He said the nation did not have “the skills and expertise to refloat stranded ships” as he appealed to France for help.
The French island of Reunion is close to Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. Both islands are part of the Vanilla Islands group. Mauritius is home to world-renowned coral reefs, and tourism is a crucial part of the nation’s economy. “When biodiversity is in peril, there is an urgency to act,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted on Saturday.
“France is there. Alongside the people of Mauritius. You can count on our support dear Jugnauth.”
The French embassy in Mauritius confirmed a military aircraft from Reunion would bring pollution control equipment to Mauritius.
Happy Khambule of Greenpeace Africa said “thousands” of animal species were “at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security health, and the important travel and tourism industry.
The ship – owned by a Japanese company but registered in Panama – was empty when it ran aground, but had some 4,000 tonnes of fuel aboard.
MV Wakashio is currently lying at Pointe d’Esny, in an area of wetlands near a marine park.
In a statement, the ship’s owner, Nagashiki Shipping, said that “due to the bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tank of the vessel has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea”.
Nagashiki Shipping added that it takes its environmental responsibilities extremely seriously and will take every effort with partner agencies and contractors to protect the marine environment and prevent further pollution
Mauritius Police opened an inquiry into the spill.
Cuthbert Ncube, chair of the African Tourism Board offered any assistance in cooperating with Mauritius.