On 25 July 2020, a bulk carrier vessel, MW Wakashio, ran aground on the reef of Point d’Esny, off the coast of Mauritius, approximately 40 kilometres southeast of the country’s capital, Port Louis, carrying nearly 4,200 metric tons (MT) of fuel, including low-sulphur fuel oil (3,894 MT), diesel (207 MT) and lubricant oil (90 MT).
The Minister for Environment, Solid Waste Management and Climate Change, Mr. Kavydass Ramano, said that the country is facing an unprecedented environmental situation as the vessel has grounded in a very sensitive zone. The ship is located near ecologically sensitive and important areas, including the Point d’Esny Wetlands, Ile aux Aigrettes Nature Reserve, Blue Bay Marine Area, Mahebourg Fishing Reserves, barachois (coastal lagoons) and mangroves. The Point d’Esny Wetlands are designated as a site of international importance under the Convention on Wetlands (‘Ramsar Convention’).
The Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd, which owns and manages the vessel said that due to bad weather and constant pounding over the past few days, the starboard side bunker tanker has been breached and an amount of fuel oil has escaped into the sea. Preliminary satellite analysis conducted by UNOSAT found that the shipwreck location was approximately 2 kilometres from the shore at Point d’Esny and that 0.23km2 oil spill was observed by 6 August.
Poor weather conditions have complicated effotrs to salvage the situation, which could further deteriorate. Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has declared a state of environmental emergency and said that the sinking of the boat represents a danger for the people of Mauritius. The country’s approximately 1.3 million inhabitants rely heavily on tourism, which has already been hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
The Government stated it is taking all necessary actions to contain the oil spill from the MV Wakashio. Some 400 sea booms have been deployed to secure the sensitive areas, and additional sea booms are being used following the detection of cracks in the ship hull, according to Minister Ramano. A command post has been set up to monitor the situation and the Minister has appealed to all private maritime operators to join forces so as to limit the spread of the spill.
A salvage team of 11 members were working to secure and stabilise the ship but had to be evacuated due to cracks in the ship hull and poor weather conditions. Meanwhile, the Mauritius Government’s Director of Shipping, Mr. Alain Donat, has said that necessary equipment from Greece will be reaching the country soon to assist in the pumping of fuel.
The Government of Mauritius has requested international support and assistance, including personnel, equipment and experts in oil spill combat, pollution monitoring, environmental protection, and evaluation of damages to the environment.
Following a request from Prime Minister Jugnauth, France in line with the POLMAR Plan will dispatch a military aircraft from La Reunion, which is expected to make two rotations over the spill site, with specialist pollution control equipment and experts aboard, on Saturday, 8 August, according to a statement released by the French Prefecture of the South Indian Ocean Defense and Security Zone.
The Indian Government is providing technical support on environmental and pollution control and clean-up, which is already on-site. Additional countries are reviewing possible support, in close consultation with the Government of Mauritius. Japan have experts on standby to support. UK, USA, EU, AfDB and Australia expressed readiness to support once needs and gaps are clear.
The United Nations (UN), under the leadership of the UN Resident Coordinator and with the support of the UNEP/OCHA Joint Environment Unit, is availing oil spill expertise and coordination capacity. UN entities that are resident in Mauritius are working closely with the Government to support the immediate response, including technical support on issues related to environment, oil spill and impact assessment by UNDP, support from UNESCO Oceanographic institute, public health support by WHO, working populations at-risk by IOM and forensic investigation plus legal support from UNODC.