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Mauritius’ First Major Oil Spill Poses Environmental Crisis

Mauritius’ First Major Oil Spill Poses Environmental Crisis
Bystanders watch the MV Wakashio bulk carrier from which oil is leaking near Blue Bay Marine Park in southeast Mauritius, on August 6, 2020. Photo by Dev Ramkhelawon / L'Express Maurice / AFP / Getty Images

The Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, renowned for its coral reefs, is facing an unprecedented ecological catastrophe after a tanker ran aground offshore and began leaking oil.

The 984-foot MV Wakashio ran aground on July 25 and began to break up due to rough waters, The Guardian reported. It contained about 220.5 tons of diesel fuel and 4,189 tons of bunker fuel.

"We are in an environmental crisis situation," Mauritius' environment minister Kavy Ramano said according to The Guardian.

The environment ministry announced the oil spill on Thursday, according to an AFP story published by Al Jazeera. The ship ran aground at Pointe d'Esny off the southeast of Mauritius, which is considered a "wetland of international importance" by the Ramsar Convention. Mauritius depends on its oceans for fish and tourism. It is also a major exporter of tuna, BBC News reported.

"This is the first time that we are faced with a catastrophe of this kind, and we are insufficiently equipped to handle this problem," Fishing Minister Sudheer Maudhoo said, AFP reported.

Mauritius is currently receiving help from the French island of Reunion and has asked other international and regional organizations to assist, Bloomberg reported.

The MV Wakashio sails under a Panamanian flag but is owned by the Japanese company Nagashiki Shipping, The Guardian reported. All crew members were evacuated safely.

Nagashiki Shipping said that rough weather had caused the spill and made cleanup more difficult.

"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," the company told Bloomberg by email. "In view of poor sea conditions salvage efforts are currently on hold."

A floating barrier has been placed around the ship to contain the oil.

Oceanographer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo said this was the first time Mauritius had seen such a devastating oil spill.

"It may have caused irreversible environmental damage to the southeastern coast of Mauritius," Kauppaymuthoo told Bloomberg.

Greenpeace Africa, meanwhile, said the incident demonstrated another example of the dangers of using and transporting fossil fuels.


"There is no guaranteed safe way to extract, transport and store fossil fuel products. This oil leak is not a twist of fate, but the choice of our twisted addiction to fossil fuels. We must react by accelerating our withdrawal from fossil fuels," Greenpeace Africa Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager Happy Khambule said in a statement Friday. "Once again we see the risks in oil: aggravating the climate crisis, as well as devastating oceans and biodiversity and threatening local livelihoods around some of Africa's most precious lagoons."

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