Oil Spill In Mauritius Threatens A Huge Environmental Crisis

Trouble in paradise: Satellite imagery of the MV Wakashio collected on August 7, 2020, above the shores of Mauritius. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies.

The once-idyllic azure waters of Mauritius are running a deathly black after a ship ran aground leaking tons of oil into the ocean. The impact of the spill is not yet clear, but many fear a huge environmental crisis is facing the vibrant biodiversity of the Indian Ocean.

MV Wakashio, a Japanese-owned bulk carrier currently sailing under the flag of Panama, hit a coral reef off the island on the evening of July 25, according to Nagashiki Shipping Co, which operates the vessel. Over the past week, bad weather caused the abandoned ship to breach and start leaking oil into the pristine waters of Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) off the south-east coast of Africa. 

Although the precise scale of the problem is not yet clear, Agence France-Presse estimates that 1,000 tonnes of oil have already leaked into the sea, while a further 2,500 tonnes remain onboard. Satellite images released by space technology company MAXAR on Friday illustrate how severe the situation is, showing a hazy black slick of oil bleeding into the surrounding turquoise blue waters. 

"We are in a situation of environmental crisis,” Kavy Ramano, Minister of the Environment of Mauritius, said in a tweet.

Drone image of the MV Wakashio. Courtesy of Greenpeace Africa

The incident is already said to be one of the worst ecological crises ever seen on the small island nation. This is especially depressing news considering that Mauritius is home to a rich array of marine life, from tropical fish and large predatory fish to sea turtles and corals. 

“Thousands of species around the pristine lagoons of Blue Bay, Pointe d’Esny and Mahebourg are at risk of drowning in a sea of pollution, with dire consequences for Mauritius’ economy, food security, and health,” Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa’s Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manager said in a statement.

Pravind Jugnauth, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Mauritius, tweeted that the oil spill “represents a danger for Mauritius.” He also stated the country does not have the infrastructure to resolve the problem and called on France to help rescue the stranded ship.

Another shot of the MV Wakashio collected on August 7, 2020. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies.

“When biodiversity is in danger, there is an urgent need to act. France is there. Alongside the Mauritian people,” responded French President Emmanuel Macron. “You can count on our dear support @PKJugnauth."

The long and arduous process of cleaning up this mess has already begun. Volunteers are trying to limit the damage caused by the oil spill by cleaning up the sea with buckets and pumps, but the problem of the stricken ship continues to linger. Nagashiki Shipping Co has said it's coordinating with the Mauritian authorities to mitigate the effects of any pollution, although salvage efforts have so far proved impossible due to poor sea conditions.

Meanwhile, another environmental crisis is also looming further north in the Indian Ocean. Authorities and environmentalists are becoming increasingly worried about a huge shipping vessel that has been stranded in the Red Sea since the outbreak of the Yemeni Civil War in 2015. Although it has not yet sprung a leak, the ship is becoming increasingly destabilized and threatens to spill 1.148 million barrels of light crude oil into the surrounding waters. 

Locals have shared images of the damage so far. Courtesy of Greenpeace Africa
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