On the evening of Saturday July 25, the bulker Wakashio grounded on coral reefs in the south-east of the Indian Ocean tropical island of Mauritius. The ship, a Japanese-owned but Panama-registered bulk carrier, was empty of cargo but had an estimated 200 tons of diesel and 3,800 tons of heavy fuel oil onboard. The ship sat for over a week before cracks emerged in its hull.
Fuel oil began to leak into the expansive turquoise blue lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahébourg. Striking satellite images show the resulting oil spill weaving a black slick between the mainland at Pointe D’Esny and the flat round island of Ile-aux-Aigrettes. The impacts seen closer up are gruesome. On August 7, nearly two weeks after the shipwreck, the government declared the incident a national emergency.
With at least 1,000 tons of fuel oil estimated to have already emptied into the lagoon, two ships moved alongside to transfer off remaining fuel in a race against time as the vessel threatened to shear into two.
I’m a Mauritian living in the UK and visit my dad’s house in Mahébourg once or twice a year. The coastline affected is the waterfront at the end of our street and the beaches where we swim and picnic. It feels scary and strange to be writing this from 6,000 miles away but inspiring to see local people taking action and coming together.
What’s under threat?
Spills like this harm marine life because the chemicals that make up oil are toxic to plants and animals, including mangrove forests and the corals that build reefs. While the black and sticky heavy oils used to fuel ships are less toxic than light oils like diesel or petroleum, they persist longer and smother life in the sea and on the coasts. Ecological effects ripple across interconnected marine and land ecosystems.
It’s very difficult to predict how severe the impacts will be in Mauritius – and how quickly or well the environment might recover – from even detailed analyses of case studies and ecology of mangroves and coral reefs. There are just too many variables, including the complexity of the ecosystems, what mix of oil has been spilled, and how clean up is attempted, which can have negative environmental impacts too.
The 55 acres of mangrove that make up the Pointe D’Esny Wetlands (roughly the area of 22 soccer pitches) are designated as a Ramsar site, a protected area for internationally important wetlands. The mangroves are home to species and habitats of conservation importance and to nurseries of fish supporting coastal fisheries.
Just along the coastal road to the south is Blue Bay Marine Park, another Ramsar site, with 870 acres of coral reefs, seagrass meadows, and more mangroves. It is home to turtles, 72 species of fish, and an exceptional coral diversity of 38 species from 15 families.
Ile-aux-Aigrettes, opposite Pointe D’Esny, has the last remaining coastal ebony forest in Mauritius and is an island I spent three months living on as a volunteer in my youth. The coastal ebony species is one of 11 remaining endemic ebony species of Mauritius, a twelfth is believed extinct. This 66-hectare island nature reserve is named for the egrets, various long-legged and typically white-feathered species of the heron family that fish these coasts.
Successful conservation efforts have restored numbers of the Pink Pigeon, one of the rarest birds in the world in 1990, on Ile-aux-Aigrettes. It was brought to the island by the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, the conservation charity that has painstakingly restored its ecosystems. Conservationists have been helped by the reintroduction of free-roaming giant tortoises who act as ecological engineers in the restoration of the various coastal islands.
Local fishermen depend on the now oil-polluted lagoon for their livelihoods and local people depend on it for most of the fish they eat. Many local small businesses, often family run, such as guest houses, tour guides, eateries and tourist shops are geared towards holidaymakers attracted by the beautiful sea, beaches and nature that Mauritians enjoy every day.
And it seems the oil spill could eventually devastate most of the east coast of Mauritius. This includes stretches further north that host a large share of luxury coastal hotels. The coronavirus has closed international tourism since March. It would have been a slow recovery even without the environmental degradation.
The MV Wakashio is wrecked on almost the same spot where a British steel-hulled sailing vessel, the Dalblair, sank carrying coal to Mauritius in 1902. The jagged remains of its decaying hull protrude to this day as a landmark above the waves, which ironically in daylight would have been a sobering warning.
After the oil spill, the usual sights of families strolling by the sea were quickly replaced by volunteers working hard in a grassroots effort to protect their coast. Packing straw from the fields of tall swaying sugar cane into homemade floating booms, self-organised groups of local people and activists deployed these along kilometres of coast with visibly evident success, halting expansion of the slick and soaking up oil.
The Mauritian government has told volunteers to stop and leave any efforts to officials. But people and local organisations are carrying on their making and deploying booms, which is the only apparent action dealing with the oil floating on the sea. It seems better to risk a fine or arrest than to stop. And local sentiment seems to be unanimously negative about the government’s slow response and lack of action targeting the slick.
Why the mistrust? Just four years ago on June 17, 2016 another bulk carrier, the MV Benita, ran aground in Grand Port just four nautical miles along the coast to the south. I was in Mauritius when this happened and looked out at the MV Benita (which had a fifth the cargo capacity of MV Wakashio) from the beach at Blue Bay.
There had reportedly been a fight on board and the ship had lost power, before drifting to Mauritius – without coming to the attention of the national coastguard. How the ship could simply crash into Mauritius without the authorities knowing bewildered people locally.
The vessel was there for five weeks before it was finally refloated, thankfully the oil having been taken off without major spillage or tank rupture. It was being towed to be scrapped in India when it then sank 50 nm off the coast of Mauritius.
Satellite evidence suggests in July 2020 the MV Wakashio had been on a clear direct collision course with Mauritius for several days and hit the reefs at Pointe D’Esny with ocean cruising speed maintained, meaning the government was again likely taken by surprise. The same evidence suggests it took six days for the government to even send out a tug to try to refloat the ship.
Governance failures in shipping
The recent Beirut tragedy – a deadly explosion of ammonium nitrate in long-term port storage – and now this Mauritius incident raise questions about governance and security in international shipping. Ships can be registered (flagged) in any country of choice, meaning owners are able to find jurisdictions with least regulations. As a Forbes article suggested: “It is unclear how effective the regulators of the flagged nations were in ensuring the safety of the vessel, port, crew and locations through which the vessel travelled.” This will need to be investigated.
Mauritius is perhaps best known for the flightless bird, the dodo, that has become emblematic of the island and of extinction. The tragic case of the dodo became a lesson for the environmentally conscious who developed the modern conservation movement. If the grounding of MV Wakashio and its destruction of environment and livelihoods can become a lesson for the global leaders who can bring about change, maybe we can at last have international shipping fit for the modern world.
Adam Moolna is a lecturer in environment and sustainability at Keele University. This article appears courtesy of The Conversation and may be found in its original form here.
Go to Source
A massive fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, incinerating a warehouse full of tires and oil within the port’s free zone. The same area was heavily damaged in the ammonium nitrate explosion that leveled the central port area and the adjacent waterfront on August 4. According to Lebanon’s civil defense agency, […]
Over the course of the past five days, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority arranged a medical intervention for an injured aboard a freighter in the Indian Ocean. On Saturday evening, the Spliethoff tweendecker Dolfijngracht called for assistance while under way about 1,000 nauical miles off the coast of Western Australia. A crewmember had sustained serious […]
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a Marine Accident Brief about an accident that occurred on April 15, 2019, involving the towing vessel DeJeanne Maria which struck the end of a submerged dredge pipeline while pushing two spud barges to the Gulf of Mexico. The incident occurred on the Mississippi River in Pass […]
Best known as a leading passenger airport serving Germany’s most populated federal state North Rhine-Westphalia, Düsseldorf has become transformed into a vital distribution point, during the COVID 19 pandemic, for medical equipment and other life-saving goods, mostly from China. Gerton Hulsman, managing director of cargo operations, reports that the handling teams are working hard to […]
DSV Belgium has solid experience in the transport of pharmaceutical products for different customers. With a pharma hub based at Brussels Airport a lot of experience and know-how has been built up over the years. Last weekend, the forwarder handled one hundred million mouth masks, an important milestone for its Belgian organisation that has put […]
The UK government’s new post-Brexit tariff regime will result in both winners and losers. The new regime is set to replace the European Union’s Common External Tariff from the end of the Brexit Transition Period on December 31, 2020. The UK’s commitment to the ongoing Brexit process and ending the UK’s transition from EU membership […]
With close to 100 daily cargo flights operated to a destination network spanning more than 65 cities across six continents, Emirates SkyCargo is delivering essential supplies and commodities to people around the world. The air cargo carrier is currently operating 11 Boeing 777 freighter aircraft, each with a capacity to transport about 100 tonnes of […]
Emirates SkyCargo has expanded its weekly scheduled cargo flight operations to cover 75 destinations across six continents. Through its wider reach, Emirates SkyCargo is able to transport essential commodities and other urgently needed cargo more rapidly across the world, allowing exporters and importers across markets to benefit from direct access to widebody cargo capacity. Some […]
Operators can continue to use pilots and other crew members who have unable to comply with certain training, recent experience, testing, and checking requirements due to the COVID-19 outbreak in support of essential operations. Additionally, this Special Federal Aviation Regulation (SFAR) provides regulatory relief to certain persons and pilot schools unable to meet duration and […]
Global commercial aviation charter company Albion Aviation Group is reporting that it is seeing a considerable uptake in its professional cargo broker training courses from the current global pandemic crisis and surge in charter demand. “We have completed a number webinar courses for a whole of host of companies, looking to manage their own cargo […]
The U-Freight Group (UFL), with its considerable involvement in eCommerce logistics, says that the latest statistics showing that global e-commerce sales hit $25.6 trillion in 2018 are a further vindication of its decision to enter this sector of the international freight market several years ago. The latest available estimates, up 8% from 2017, were recently […]
Astral Aviation has increased its intra-African network with cargo freighters during the pandemic. While there has been a reduction in capacity to, from, and within Africa, which has been caused by a stoppage of passenger flights and limited frequencies on freighter aircraft, Astral Aviation continues to operate cargo freighters from its Nairobi hub to 13 destinations […]
Callan Marine is serving as the prime contractor to the Texas Department of Transportation for a maintenance dredging project located at the Bolivar Ferry Terminal, in Galveston, Texas. Work began in May and is estimated to be complete in late July 2020. The project consists of the removal of 600,000 cubic yards of material and […]
Network Airline Management and TAAG Angola Airlines are pleased to announce the renewal of their long-term freighter aircraft contract by an additional 12 months, sealing an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future. Operating a regular weekly scheduled service from Liege, Belgium, to the capital of Angola, Luanda, Network Airline Management provides a Boeing 747-400F aircraft […]
Qatar Airways Cargo transported 56 SkyCell containers with vaccines from one of the largest vaccine manufacturers worldwide on its scheduled freighter and belly-hold cargo flights for its customer, CEVA Logistics. The 54-tonne shipment consisting of pneumococcal and varicella vaccines were flown from Brussels to Mumbai via the carrier’s hub in Doha on two separate flights. […]
NOAA Fisheries announced Friday that it will cancel five out of its six large-scale research surveys in Alaskan waters this year due to COVID-19. The canceled surveys include the Aleutian Islands bottom trawl survey, the eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the northern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey, the Bering Sea pollock acoustics survey, and […]