Mauritius Oil Spill Tragedy

I’ve been remiss in not even putting up links on Mauritius, when the scale of the tanker oil spill relative to the size of the small, densely populated, and famously paradisiacal island nation (it even has fabulous food) is a massively blow to wildlife and its tourist industry, already hard hit by Covid-19. Readers have also been asking after our Colonel Smithers, who hails from Mauritius. He sent photos from relatives which we show below.

If you want to help, please donate here. I find it distressing to just to see felled trees after severe storms. This destruction is entirely man made. And the poor oil-sickened birds and turtles and fish, many of which will die….

Recent news reports indicate that rescue efforts successfully staved off some of the possible additional spillage from the foundered vessel, but the damage was still serious. From BBC:

The amount of oil spilled from the Japanese-owned ship nearby the lagoons and coastal areas of south-east Mauritius is relatively low compared to the big oil spills the world has seen in the past, but the damage it will do is going to be huge and long-lasting, experts say.

Unlike most previous offshore spills, this has taken place near two environmentally protected marine ecosystems and the Blue Bay Marine Park reserve, which is a wetland of international importance.

So, it’s the location rather than the size of the spill which is causing greatest concern about its potentially serious environmental impact.

The stunning turquoise waters of the blue lagoon outside the coastal village of Mahébourg in Mauritius, the backdrop for numerous Bollywood movies, are now stained black and brown….

It is thought that more than 1,000 tonnes of fuel have leaked out of the ship and into the lagoon. A huge clean-up operation has been launched from the shore with many local people volunteering to help…

Mauritius is a biodiversity hotspot with a high concentration of plants and animals unique to the region…

The Mauritian marine environment is home to 1,700 species including around 800 types of fish, 17 kinds of marine mammals and two species of turtles, according to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity.

Coral reefs, seagrasses and mangroves make Mauritian waters extraordinarily rich in biodiversity.

“There are very few such marine areas with such rich biodiversity left on the planet. An oil spill like this will impact almost everything there,” said Dr Corina Ciocan, a senior lecturer in marine biology at the UK’s University of Brighton.

A later BBC article confirmed that concerted local efforts had kept most of the rest of the oil on the ship from leaking out:

Almost all the fuel oil from the Japanese-owned ship that has caused a huge oil spill off the coast of Mauritius has been pumped out, Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth has said.

The operation had been a race against time, he added, amid fears that the MV Wakashio would break up.

The ship, believed to have been carrying 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil, ran aground on a coral reef on 25 July…

On Friday, Mr Jugnauth declared a state of emergency and appealed for international help.

Since then, volunteers have also been collecting straw from fields and filling sacks to make barriers against the oil….

The Mauritian prime minister’s announcement that almost all the remaining oil from the Japanese-owned ship has been pumped out certainly comes as good news.

The simple reason: the super-sensitive marine environment has now avoided suffering an oil spill three times worse than it has seen in the past few days. But, averted loss is one thing – the damage already done is another.

The French Navy helped.

From a series of satellite photos at the Guardian:

Thousands of volunteers have assembled miles of improvised floating barriers in a desperate attempt to hold back the oily tide

From the Weather Channel:

Crews are racing to contain an oil spill that dumped black sludge into the pristine turquoise waters off the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, killing eels, starfish and other sea life.

The Japanese ship MV Wakashio hit a coral reef along the island’s southeastern coast on July 25. High winds and waves pounded the ship, causing it to crack and spew at least 1,000 tons of oil into the surrounding ocean.

“We are starting to see dead fish. We are starting to see animals like crabs covered in oil, we are starting to see seabirds covered in oil, including some which could not be rescued,” Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at Mauritius Wildlife Foundation, told Reuters.

Work is underway to remove hundreds more tons of oil that remain on the ship before the vessel completely breaks apart.

And Colonel Smithers’ message and photos, from earlier in the week:

Please find attached photos shared by relatives volunteering with the clear up yesterday.

One wonders what the ship was doing so close to shore, as there are no ports around there and there’s no reason to be sailing around there, and why the government waited a fortnight before doing anything.

One suspicion is that the ship was dropping drugs to a shuttle.

I hope you’ll extend your sympathies and chip in a little if you can. I have.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Looks bad, best wishes to all on that island fighting to protect the seas.

    1000 tonnes is tiny compared to most spills, but the damage caused is all about location. It looks like this vessel ran aground in the worst possible place. Maybe if someone has a registration with marine they can check if it had an odd route, consistent with some kind of drug drop off. But most likely it was just engine failure at a bad time.

  2. Oh

    It would be wise for these islands to change to use more solar, wind and other forms of non fossil fuel energy as fast as possible. The damage of oil spills to marine life is long lasting and recovery may take decades with many species not ever coming back.

    1. jefemt

      Might be wiser for ALL of us, everywhere to do that…

      Hands up if you sold some securities and bought a solar array?
      Riding a bike and walking?
      Made efforts to telecommute, drive less, demand less, moved closer to work?

      Federal tax break for renewables down to 26% by end of 2020, significantly reduced from there next year.

      Thank the Lord for a bought congress and Donald J. Trump!

      1. Leftist Mole

        Guilty. This is the year we put in solar and a battery, got a electric golf cart and an electric bike (its hilly here and we’re old.) Because we don’t trust PG&E and live in the land of earthquakes and wildfires.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The island is very densely populated, which likely makes wind problematic (no where to site it on the island, and they do not want to screw up the waters near the island for ecosystem reasons).

      And it’s not very hot despite being very near the equator due to being cloudy almost every day for part of the day.

  3. The Rev Kev

    Somebody should be checking the transponder records for that ship – the Japanese ship MV Wakashio. Track its course and start asking questions about why it was sailing where it was. At least unlike that ship in Lebanon, the ownership is pretty clear even though it was registered in Panama-

  4. Ignacio

    Some international support with vessels used to decontaminate oil in the sea would be helpful. Has anyone offered any help?

  5. ambrit

    As someone who was ‘near’ to the oil spill that resulted from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, I can attest to the long lasting and pernicious nature of the ecological damage. The island should go all in for maximum clean up now. The longer one waits, the deeper into the seafloor the oil will sink, to be stirred back up at a later date.
    As to what caused the ship to move in so close to the reef…
    The best way to “punish” the perpetrators, if anything is amiss, would be to void the insurance policy as far as replacing the value of the ship is concerned.
    If something nefarious is at the root of this event, then a new class of crime is appropriate; Ecocide. Make it a Capital Offense.

    1. John Zelnicker

      August 13, 2020 at 11:17 am

      Hope you and yours are doing well and staying safe and healthy.

      Down here on the coast of Alabama, the damage from Deepwater Horizon spill is still noticeable in some places on the beach.

      Colonel Smithers – My best wishes to you and your family for a quick recovery from this horrible disaster.

      1. ambrit

        Back at you Mr. Zelnicker!
        Phyl is in the middle of a mask heavy process of fitting a prosthetic leg. (A much more complicated process than one would initially assume.)
        Besides the Pandemic, do be ready for hurricane season. On second thought, you being from the Gulf Coast, that should be taken as a given.
        Stay safe!

  6. Ken

    “,,,the tanker oil spill….”
    The MV Wakashio is not an oil tanker. It is a bulk carrier sailing from China to Brazil, perhaps to load soybeans or iron ore or other Brazilian export. The leaking oil is from the ship’s fuel tanks. Bunker fuel oil is much less toxic than most crude oils. Bunker oil is thick, black, gloppy, not easy to clean.

    Current reports are that the ship was conducting a birthday party for a crew member. Reports say that the ship sailed close to the island to try to pick up a wifi signal during the birthday party. Local coast guard tried to warn the ship away from its course; we don’t know if the ship acknowledged the warnings or missed them due to the party.

  7. rjs

    other oil spills this week you may have missed were off the white sands coast of Venezuela, into the waters of the Thousand Islands regency in Indonesia, and on land in Kuwait…then there was also the “inadvertent release” of 10,000 gallons of drilling mud into Marsh Creek Lake in Marsh Creek State Park in Pennsylvania..

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