Mauritius seeks compensation after vessel blackens beaches with oil spill

A photo of oil washed up on a beach from the MV Wakashio, off the southeast coast of Mauritius, on Aug 9, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

PORT LOUIS (BLOOMBERG) - Mauritius is seeking compensation from the owners of the cargo carrier that run aground and spilled oil off its coast, causing the island nation's worst ecological disaster.

More than half of about 1,000 tonnes of fuel that leaked from the MV Wakashio has yet to be removed from the sea and coast.

About 1,020 tonnes of oil has been transfered from the big ship to small tankers, and crews are working to remove more than 1,500 tonnes that still remains, Nagashiki Shipping, which owns the vessel, said on Tuesday (Aug 11).

Mauritius now faces widespread pollution, threatening the livelihoods of communities that depend on the ocean.

The island economy, which relies on tourists who flock to its white sand beaches, is already reeling from the coronavirus fallout and may be further affected by the spill.

The government "will ensure that the insurance company of MV Wakashio compensates the state and any other entity or person affected by the calamity", Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth said in a statement to Parliament.

The ship hit a reef off the south-eastern coast of Mauritius on July 25 and began leaking oil almost two weeks later. Mauritius couldn't intervene immediately because of rough seas and a lack of resources, according to Mr Jugnauth.

Oil pollution is expected to move north along the coast and could affect the regions of Grand Port, Bambous Virieux and Flacq, according to the Ocha, the United Nation's humanitarian agency.

Strong currents on Aug 9 were pushing the oil slick toward Riviere des Creoles, it said.

The 300m-long ship, chartered by Mitsui OSK Lines, was en route to Brazil from China and carrying 3,894 tonnes of low-sulphur fuel, 207 tonnes of diesel and 90 tonnes of lubricant. The bulk carrier designed to transport cargoes like iron ore is currently outside a lagoon, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

The crack inside the hull of the ship has expanded, according to Nagashiki.

"Since this ship is unable to navigate by itself, a tow connection has been established between a tug and the Wakashio" to prevent it from drifting, it said.

Thousands of Mauritians were seen wearing masks and making booms, while others queued to carry and deploy the barriers to try and prevent the oil from spreading further.

Crews may finish pumping the remaining oil from the vessel on Wednesday, Director Shipping at the marine resources ministry, Mr Alain Donat, said by phone.

The International Maritime Organisation said Tuesday that an oil-spills expert it deployed to help is yet to depart, pending compliance with Mauritian Covid-19 restrictions. Nagashiki said two of its personnel were cleared to go to the site.

Earlier, the nation's lawmakers criticised the government for taking too long to start removing fuel from the vessel, and questioned why it came too close to the coast in the first place.

"Mauritius has no such expertise and required resources," Mr Jugnauth told lawmakers. The "government has done it's level best to prevent the situation from worsening in the face of very rough seas due to bad weather conditions".

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