Mauritius’ Minister of the Environment Kavi Ramano addressed the current response to the grounding of the MV Wakashio, on a reef off Pointe D’esny.
The Wakashio was heading to Brazil from China, when it ran aground around on Saturday, July 25.
The ship is not carrying any cargo, but it Minister Ramano reported that it was carrying 3,894 tonnes of low-sulphur fuel oil, 207 tonnes of diesel and 90 tonnes of lube oil.
In addition, there are reports indicating the ship’s hull is undamaged, but the engine room has flooded because of a ruptured hose.
All crew members currently remain on board.
What is more, Mr. Ramano informed that there is no oil spill. However, traces of hydrocarbons have been reported in algae over 300 meters. These are believed to have come from the engine room, while no further leakage has been detected.
Furthermore, a boom has been placed near the entrance to the Blue Bay Marine Park, which is a protected area in south-east part of the island just south of the grounding site.
Finally, a tug has been dispatched from South Africa, with a second tug with oil spill response equipment being underway from Singapore with an ETA on Wednesday, July 29.
Unfortunately, the minister’s reassurances proved to be unduly optimistic, if not complacent – there’s a substantial breach of the hull and oil is spreading across the Blue Bay Marine Park (a Ramsar site of international importance), schools have had to be closed because the smell of oil is so strong, and the already struggling tourism and fishing industries, on which most of the inhabitants of the Mahebourg/Pointe d’Esny/Blue Bay area depend, are facing ruin. It is an unmitigated environmental and economic disaster for south-eastern Mauritius.
This is the third major grounding on the reef in nine years – Angel 1 hit the reef off Poudre d’Or in 2011, Benita went aground at Le Bouchon (the other side of Blue Bay) in 2016 and now Wakashio.
The Angel 1 and Benita groundings were handled quite impressively by Mauritius which is, after all, a small country a long way from anywhere and with limited resources for emergency response – but the response to this incident has been marked by lamentable complacency and delay.
The collision with the reef is utterly inexplicable. The Mauritius Coast Guard tried several times to contact the ship without success. When they eventually made contact the Master insisted he was on the right course and following the voyage plan. Local news reports state that a member of the public, following Wakashio on an AIS tracker, spotted the danger as well and tried to warn the ship. The reef is usually visible from some way out; it’s not hard to spot even at night. There’s been no indication that the ship was in any kind of mechanical trouble or that the navigation equipment on the bridge was malfunctioning.
It’s hard to think of any rational explanation for this incident except navigational incompetence.
After the Angel 1 and Benita groundings and the Hansa Brandenburg fire it should surely have been obvious that, despite the undoubtedly high cost, an emergency response vessel needed to be permanently stationed in this increasingly heavily trafficked and environmentally sensitive (and tourism- and fisheries-dependent) region. The cost might perhaps be shared between members of the Indian Ocean Commission. An ERV in Port Louis would be able to serve La Reunion, Rodrigues and other Indian Ocean islands. It simply takes too long for oild spill response and salvage vessels to reach these vulnerable places from South Africa, Sri Lanka and Singapore.
Somehow, a way must be found to increase the western Indian Ocean’s responsiveness and resilience to maritime disasters.
It should be placed a signalling post, with solar power cells for automatic radio signal and illumination, at the places where these three groundings occurred, so as to try and avoid recurrence, although avoiding creating more damage to the reef areas.