Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Onboard Birthday Party May Have Caused Mauritius Oil Spill

Onboard Birthday Party May Have Caused Mauritius Oil Spill
A Japanese ship that ran aground on a coral reef off Mauritius may have changed course to get a mobile data signal for a birthday celebration on board. imo.un / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

A Japanese ship that wrecked off the coast of Mauritius in July and sparked one of the worst environmental disasters in the country's history may have run aground because of birthday celebrations on board at the time.

That's according to a statement from the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP), in the latest development from the July 25 wrecking of the Panama-flagged and Japanese-owned M.V. Wakashio, a bulk carrier. The ship, bound for Brazil from Singapore, was sailing through Mauritian waters when it ran aground on a coral reef and leaked almost 1,000 tons of fuel oil.

In its statement published in Spanish on Sept. 7, the AMP, which is collaborating in the investigation into the accident, said the ship diverted its navigation plan, possibly in relation to "the celebration of the birthday of one of the crew members."


"[T]he change of course is produced by indications of the captain of the boat, who gave instructions to approach about 5 miles away from the coast of Mauritius, looking for a telephone and internet signal, so that the crew members could communicate with their families," the AMP said.

The Wakashio's captain was taken into custody on Aug. 18 for endangering safe navigation. According to the government, the ship had failed to respond to several calls from the Mauritian Coast Guard.

Mauritius's environment minister, Kavydass Ramano, called it an "unprecedented" crisis, and the prime minister declared a national emergency on Aug. 7, a day after oil began leaking from its tank.

The AMP said its investigation into the cause of the grounding was still in the preliminary phase. It also raised questions about the use of the electronic navigational chart (ENC). "It seems that the wrong chart was being used and with the wrong scale, which made it impossible to properly verify the approach to the coast and shallower waters," the AMP said.

Satellite data analysis reported by Forbes shows the ship changed course on July 21, putting it on a direct collision path with the island. The outlet also reported that weather conditions in the days leading up to the crash were not adverse, discounting bad weather as a possible explanation for the move.

Some observers say the missteps could be linked to the stress that ship crews are under in the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 shutdowns. It has become challenging for shipping operators to make crew changes, leading many seafarers to be stranded at sea, away from their families for long periods.

The Wakashio ran aground on the reef close to at least three ecologically important sites: a Ramsar wetland, a coral island hosting rare and endemic birds, and a marine protected area. Environmentalists say they fear the spill will have lasting effects on the coral reefs, mangroves and fisheries in the region.

Last week, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL), the Japanese company operating the ship, pledged 1 billion yen ($9.5 million) for environmental preservation efforts and to shore up local fisheries.

Nagashiki Shipping, the owner of the Wakashio, will also be contributing to this initiative, called the Mauritius Natural Environment Recovery Fund. The money will go toward mangrove recovery, coral reef protection and safeguarding Mauritius's rare flora and fauna, and for research work.

The Japanese government has also offered aid, but the value of its commitment is undecided. Japanese media have reported that Mauritius is seeking 1.34 billion Mauritian rupees ($34 million) from Tokyo.

Mauritius is also seeking compensation from Nagashiki Shipping. It has started the process of collecting claims from residents impacted by the crash and the spill.

Mauritian authorities have come under increasing scrutiny at home for letting the ship remain on the reef for more than 10 days, even as choppy waters damaged the vessel and ultimately led to a breach in the fuel tank. The ship broke into two on Aug. 15.

A controversial decision to sink the front half of the ship on Aug. 25, and the beaching of dozens of dolphins and whales days just days later, fueled further discontent. The causes of the deaths of the cetaceans are yet to be determined.

On Aug. 29, thousands of people marched in the streets of the capital, Port Louis, to protest what they see as the government's mishandling of the crisis. Another protest was held in Mahebourg, an important fishing village, on Sept. 12.

Meanwhile, the stern of the broken vessel remains lodged on the reef. Efforts are underway to remove it before the Indian Ocean storm season starts in November.

Reposted with permission from Mongabay.

By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton

Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Kevin Maillefer / Unsplash

By Lynne Peeples

Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.

In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.

Read More Show Less


Eat Just's cell-based chicken nugget is now served at Singapore restaurant 1880. Eat Just, Inc.

At a time of impending global food scarcity, cell-based meats and seafood have been heralded as the future of food.

Read More Show Less
New Zealand sea lions are an endangered species and one of the rarest species of sea lions in the world. Art Wolfe / Photodisc / Getty Images

One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.

Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.

Read More Show Less

piyaset / iStock / Getty Images Plus

In an alarming new study, scientists found that climate change is already harming children's diets.

Read More Show Less