The Wakashio sits run aground on the coral reefs of Mauritius. It will begin to leak oil in the following days. (Photo used by permission of Beata Albert)
The Japanese-owned ship, The Wakashio, ran aground Mauritius’ coral reef and mangrove forest on July 25 and began to leak its almost-full fuel tank on August 6, 2020. The island of Mauritius is a pristine area off of the coast of East Africa which was recently blemished by an oil spill.
The natural biodiversity of the island is in great harm from this spill as it is home to many endangered plants and animals like the Aldabra Tortoises, the Green Turtle, and certain types of sharks and rays.
A scuttle operation led by the Mauritian government was intended to relocate The Wakashio, but their efforts might have made matters worse. In an effort to relocate it off of the reef, the ship broke in two and the front half sunk. According to Forbes Magazine, “…the oil slick spread to ten times its original size within 5 days, spreading 14 miles…” after the ship was rested on the bottom.
Now, half of the vessel sits on the breeding and nursing grounds of several types of dolphins and whales– slowly releasing its engine fuel.
To make matters worse, a barge carrying oil from the wreck collided with the tug boat that was towing it. There was no satellite anti-collision tracking software on the oil barge and bad weather is believed to be the cause. Now, a rescue operation is underway to find a remaining crew member from the boat. The collision resulted in four rescues and one death– while the oil barge is still floating around Mauritius unattached.
The lack of response from the country’s parliament sparked protests not just about the environmental harm being done– but the economic consequences this incident could have.
According to Deutsche Welle, the recent protests have been the largest Mauritius has seen in 40 years, with up to 75,000 arriving at the capital to voice their concern with Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth.
The people of Mauritius rely on tourism to keep their economy running. The country’s clear water and national parks draw people from all over the world which gives citizens a source of income.
It’s unclear why The Wakashio was so close to the coral reef around Mauritius when the vessel was traveling from Singapore to Brazil although the crew was allegedly having a party at the time it crashed. The captain of the ship has reportedly been arrested and will face court. France has sent military aircraft equipped with pollution control equipment, and Japan deployed a crew of six to aid France’s efforts. Despite government help, their impact will likely be minimal to the damage already done.
Citizens of Mauritius have been taking it upon themselves to aid in cleaning up the oil spill with environmental organizations until the government furthers their action. At least 40 dolphins have been found dead near the oil spill, and 25 of them have been taken for autopsies.
Helena Bunte, marine activist at Leesville, believes the government of Mauritius and Japan need to take further action and be held accountable. Bunte writes in an email, “..I think it is really important that the government (and other governments around the world) take better leadership in fixing these issues. I think Japan should definitely play a big role in helping clean up the spill and taking more actions to prevent spills like these in the future.”
The lack of transparency in the Mauritian Parliament is leading protesters to urge high government officials to step down.
Scientists believe that complications surrounding the oil spill are only just beginning. The economic and environmental damage will likely have long term effects as we’ve seen with past spills.