Environmental Crisis Looms Over Mauritius After Oil Spill from Shipwreck
Mauritius is currently on the brink of an environmental crisis due to oil leaking from the shipwreck of a bulk carrier that ran aground on July 25, two miles off its coast.
Panama-flagged, and named MV Wakashio, the carrier is owned by Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping, and was sailing from from China to Brazil, when it hit the coral reefs off the southeast coast of Mauritius. It has since been lying there — slowly leaking oil into the ocean. The ship was reportedly carrying 3,894 metric tons of low sulfur fuel oil, 207 metric tons of diesel, and 90 metric tons of lubricant oil. And images circulating on social media show a layer of black oil emanating from the shipwreck and spreading across the Indian Ocean.
Ecologists have expressed concerns that the ship could break up, causing an even greater leak, and inflicting potentially catastrophic damage. “We are in an environmental crisis situation,” Kavydass Ramano, Mauritius’ Minister of Environment, said. “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 Minister of Marine Resources and Fisheries, added.
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The grounding of the carrier happened at an environmentally-sensitive area called Pointe d’Esny, which is listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of wetlands. The grounding site is also near the Blue Bay Marine Park, which is a sea-life tourist attraction.
At present, the country, which depends crucially on its seas for food and for tourism, has barred access to beaches and lagoons on its coast due to the spill. According to an official statement by the country’s Ministry of Environment, “The public in general, including boat operators and fishers, are requested not to venture on the beach and in the lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg.” Access to the Blue Bay Marine Park, and to the Mahebourg fishing reserve, has been restricted until further notice.
So far, attempts to stabilize the ship, and pump out the fuel, have failed because of the rough seas. The country’s National Coast Guard is involved in efforts to contain the leakage now alongside Polyeco, an environment services company. Reportedly, Réunion Island, a nearby French department in the Indian Ocean, is also assisting Mauritius clean up the spill, as the country awaits further assistance from other international organizations. Marine protection teams are also present at the site, attempting to prevent a potential environmental disaster.