On July 25, bulk carrier MV Wakashio struck a coral reef and ran aground in Pointe d’Esny, Southeast of Mauritius. Before the MV Wakashio got grounded, the National Coast Guard (NCG) Radar Operators first spotted the Panama-flagged vessel at 11.5 nautical miles in the common sea route at 18:15 on July 25. Consequently, a series of actions were initiated.
In accordance with the standard practice, the Coastal Surveillance Radar System Station attempted on various occasions to establish communication with the MV Wakashio. A first time at 18:15 hours, while the NCG Operations Room monitored the vessel through the Automatic Identification System.
Other attempts to communicate with the captains remained without response, until 20:10 hours. This was when the Master of the vessel responded to the call made by the NCG. He informed the NCG that he had lost control of his vessel.
Between July 25th and August 5th, no oil spillage was detected. However, on August 6, the structure of the vessel had weakened due to continuous stresses and strains caused by high waves. This made the risk of an oil spill imminent. The continuous leaking of the fuel tank, it resulted into a Tier 3 oil spill situation.
The MV Wakashio has since leaked an estimated amount of 1,000 tonnes of oil into the pristine waters of the Indian Ocean.
On Saturday 15th August, the MV Wakashio vessel split into two with remaining fuel spreading out into the Indian Ocean. The front part is reportedly being towed and will be sunk at least 1,000 kilometers off the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius.
The MV Wakashio Breaking onto the Reefs
Director of maritime affairs Alain Donat told local news that the ship split on the reefs of Pointe d’Esny.
“The front part is being towed very slowly,” Donat was quoted as saying, adding that this part will be sunk at least 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) off Mauritius and that the rear section will be left on the breakers for the time being.
Water purification operations also began in the lagoons on Saturday morning. Oil residue – which could not be pumped from the bilges – had started to leak from the bulk carrier on Friday.
The Japanese-owned but Panamanian-flagged ship was on its way to Brazil from China carrying close to 4,000 tons of fuel when it struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25.
Its hull began to crack after days of pounding waves. Some 1,000 tons of fuel began to leak on August 6.
The incident triggered an environmental emergency, with authorities racing to contain the spill. Helicopters have been flying between the ship and the coast since Saturday to siphon the remaining fuel from the vessel.
Environmental groups warned that the damage to coral reefs and coastal areas could be irreversible. These groups are calling on the Mauritius government to explain why immediate action wasn’t taken.
The Prime Minister of Mauritius Pravind Jugnauth blamed bad weather for the slow response. The Mauritius government is also seeking compensation from Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd, one of the listed owners of the ship.
The Japanese company said it is investigating why its ship, meant to stay at least 10 miles from shore, went off course. Nagashiki has sent a team of experts to assist in cleaning up the damage.
Japanese Environment Minister said additional specialists and a team of officials from the ministry will be dispatched to Mauritius. They will help to assess the extent of the damage.
The catastrophic oil leak has already caused unprecedented damage to the island’s lagoons, marine habitats and once-pristine beaches.
Mauritius known as a popular destination for its marine ecology, clear waters and white beaches is largely dependent on tourism.