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Island-wide protest planned as Mauritius PM feels the heat from the Wakashio disaster

A protest march is planned across the island of Mauritius tomorrow at midday as locals react with anger to the government’s slow handling of the oil spill from the Japanese-owned Wakashio bulk carrier. Protests are also being planned at the same time on Saturday in front of the Mauritian embassies in capital cities around the world.

The newcastlemax ran around on a reef off Mauritius on July 25 and started to leak oil 10 days later before splitting in two. The rear of the ship is still sitting on the same reef while the front three quarters have been towed to deep waters 25 km away and sunk.

In the last three days a total of 34 dead dolphins have washed up along the Mauritius shoreline, further inflaming local indignation at the accident. Initial autopsy results of two of the dead mammals, however, show no traces of oil.

The captain and the first officer of the ship have been arrested, charged with “endangering safe navigation”. The ship clearly deviated from its intended route in the Indian Ocean as it approached Mauritian waters.

The leader of the opposition party today grilled the prime minister, Pravind Jugnauth, asking him three key questions on the Wakashio disaster: when was the environmental arm of the salvage company appointed; how many times did the coast guard try and contact the ship; and what the prime minister made of comments from a French minister who visited the country a fortnight ago and said his country would have handled the situation differently.

CMCC, an Italian NGO which has been monitoring the bunker spill daily, provided an update today.

“Potential oil movements from contaminated beaches at Vieux Gran Port and Ile aux Aigrettes towards South impacting the Mahebourg area and Pointe D’Esny, respectively, will persist. The SW transport of part of the beached oil found close to the Wakashio wreck will remain intense,” the bulletin noted, adding that much of the southeast coast of the island was still being impacted from the fuel.

Insurers are bracing for a bill in excess of $500m from the disaster. The 203,000 dwt ship is owned by Nagashiki Shipping and was on charter to Mitsui OSK Lines (MOL). Anglo-Eastern serves as the crew manager to the stricken vessel.

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Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.

Comments

  1. Here Mauritians are wasting their time with this road walk,
    It’s all set by the opposition party,
    We all Mauritians here are aware that the disaster was not planned and the responsibilities are upon the shipping company yet the media and unresponsible politicians are turning the facts.
    The actual government acted as per the international maritime protocol mentioned & same has been done correctly without any discribencies.
    We all here are not fool to go for a new election which cost too high, and the next is in year 2024, then let wait for the time.

    1. Hahahahahahaha. Rathan. Serious? or biased?…
      Before you actually try to defend this government, please do a little fact-checking:
      – Strange trajectory of the vessel
      – probable drug cargo
      – cost guards absence of action / reaction
      – gvt absence of action, response and communication
      – official minimization of facts
      – words against the benevolent people who ACTUALLY DID HELP
      – bogus reports about exact oil composition and toxicity (and when the truth will leak, that will hurt…)
      – lack of transparency on pollution treatments processes, waste management, actions taken, people involved, costs…
      – Wakashio sunk. Where? Impacts?
      – beaches cover ups
      – poor attempts of fast removal of dead mammals from the shore to be sure no one would check independently
      – ridiculous declarations that the dolphins were to blame because of a deregulation of their NAV system
      – and so on, and so on…

      There is more to the Wakashio disaster than what is officially released. Fact-checking. Just this. No more. No less. And then dear Rathan, comeback to write what you actually think. I will spare you the interrogations about Covid-19 crisis management, closing of borders, lack of leadership. And you please, please, spare us time from the usual BS.
      Thanking you in advance.

      BD, an angry dolphin…

  2. Some updates.

    From the transcript of PM Pravind Jugnauth’ responses to Arvin Boollel’s questions

    Private Notice Question by Opposition leader Dr Arvin Boolell
    [Summarised from PDF of transcript. Dr Boolell’s questions in bold. Passages in quotation marks are verbatim from transcript. Comments in square brackets are my own]
    (a) for the benefit of the House, obtain from the Commissioner of Police [CP], information as to the exact number of times the National Coast Guard contacted the vessel prior to its being grounded
    Wakashio was tracked by the National Coast Guard (NCG) Operations Room, through the Sea Vision Satellite AIS, from when the vessel entered the Mauritian EEZ at 200nm at 23.30 on 23 July.
    Wakashio entered territorial waters at 18.10 on 25 July. At 18 15, NCG radar operators at Pointe-du-Diable Coastal Surveillance Radar System Station (CSRSS) first called Wakashio when it was 11.5nm off the Mauritius coast. No response was received. The vessel was called on four more occasions, all without response.
    At 19 10, as the vessel was about 6nm from Mahébourg and was approaching the coast at 11kt, NCG Operations Room told Pointe du Diable CSRSS to call the vessel again and instruct the Captain to alter course and to keep clear of the coast. There was no response.
    At 19.25 the ship appeared to stop off Point d’Esny. CSRSS Pointe-du-Diable called again; no response. Further calls were made at 19.30, and (by Mahébourg and Blue Bay coast guard posts) four times between 19.45 and 20.10; “no radio contact could be established”. [Highly significant that there was no response for almost 1 hour after grounding.]
    “At 20 10 hours, the Master of the vessel finally responded to the call made by the National Coast Guard… the Master of the vessel informed that the vessel was on innocent passage. After further query, the Captain stated that he had lost control of his vessel, which got grounded.”
    The PM said that the CP reported “no Fast Interceptor Boat could be deployed due to heavy swell and rough sea conditions”. [These boats were purchased specifically to be able to intercept fast drug-smuggling boats on the high seas, so the news that they can’t be used in moderate swell conditions is astonishing. This is the Indian Ocean for xxxx’s sake!]
    The PM’s answer continued: “all the Coast Guard Ships, namely Barracuda, Victory and Valiant based at Port Louis Harbour would have taken nine hours for the preparations and transit of these vessels to reach the casualty site. Among the six Helicopters only Dhruv has night flying capabilities but could not be deployed as it was on maintenance until 7 August 2020.”
    [A CG vessel that takes 9 hours to get ready is as much use as a rubber duck. Why there is no ocean-capable vessel based anywhere on the east coast, which is (1) the most environmentally sensitive side of the island, (2) the windward side and (3) the side next to the most heavily trafficked sea lane, so the one most in need of high-speed emergency response? The unavailability of the only helicopter with night capability is typical – the CSRSSs at St Brandon, Agalega and Gris-Gris (just south of Mahébourg) were all out of action due to arrears of maintenance; reportedly, two AIS units were also non-operational]
    (b) state whether he has taken stock of the comments of the French Minister of Overseas, Mr Sébastien Lecornu, on the handling of the event prior to the grounding
    “Prior to his departure, [French Overseas Territories] Minister Sébastien Lecornu had a telephone conversation with me during which he expressed satisfaction on the manner in which Government had taken measures to respond to the incident. He further reassured me [the PM] of the readiness of France to continue to assist Mauritius. I am also informed that the Minister made comments in Réunion Island and such comments may be subject to different interpretations.”
    (c) state exactly when the environmental arm to the salvage company was selected, indicating both the environmental personnel deployed and equipment airfreighted prior to the 6th of August 2020 by the company or its agents
    The owner of the vessel, Okiyo Maritime Corp and SMIT Salvage Pte Ltd signed the Lloyd’s Standard Form of Salvage Agreement (LOF) on 26 July. “According to this Salvage Agreement, the Salvage Team is responsible to, inter alia, salve the vessel and take the vessel to a place of safety. Furthermore, the Salvage Team has the environmental obligation [emphasis as per original transcript] to use their best endeavours to prevent or minimise damage to the environment while performing the salvage services.”
    Polyeco SA was appointed by Japan P&I Club on 28 July as the environmental arm of SMIT Salvage for the salvage operations of the vessel. “He also informed that Mr A. H., expert of ITOPF, has been contracted by the insurers to assist Polyeco”. Equipment airfreighted by Polyeco included fence booms, oil absorbent booms, sorbent booms and skimmers.
    [But does a salvor owe any special duty to the coastal state? It is contracted by the owner’s insurer, so Smit had no contractual relationship with the Mauritian state. Ahead of Saturday’s massive demonstration in Port Louis against corruption, inaction, media repression, police brutality etc opposition Reform Party leader Roshi Badain, reported in Le Défi, criticised PM Jugnauth “for having listened only to the Salvage Master, hired by the owner of the Wakashio”. This is exactly my reading of the reason for the government’s inaction prior to the leak. Nevertheless, serious questions must be asked of Smit for stating that the ship was ‘stable’ and there was no leak. Video shot by a crew member clearly shows the engine room flooded within, at most, 48 hours of grounding.]

    From Le Defi today: 1,236 metric tonnes of liquid waste (heavy oil) have been collected and sent to Ecofuel and Virgin Oil to date. Council of Ministers stated that some 815 tonnes of solid waste and contaminated debris had been collected and transferred to the Hazardous Waste Interim Storage Facility in La Chaumière for temporary storage and subsequently exported. Agence Française de Developpement, the World Bank, the United Nations Development Program and the African Development Bank will form a consortium to offer technical assistance to assess the impact of places affected by the oil spill.

    Greenpeace Africa (full details here https://www.greenpeace.org/africa/en/publications/11994/mauritius-oil-disaster-open-letter-24-august-2020/) has written to Environment Minister Kavydass Ramano and Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo to demand:
    (1) A fully public independent investigation must be conducted into the causes and consequences of the disaster, funded by Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping
    (2) The Government of Mauritius must ensure that an independent scientific assessment of the ecosystems is carried out, which encompasses the degree of impact both for humans and nature, and should include both short and long term monitoring
    (3) A fully public independent investigation must be conducted into the causes and consequences of the disaster, funded by Mitsui OSK and Nagashiki Shipping;
    (4) The Government of Mauritius must ensure that an independent scientific assessment of the ecosystems is carried out, which encompasses the degree of impact both for humans and nature, and should include both short and long term monitoring.

    Greenpeace Africa has also called on the government to initiate a review of separate transport shipping lanes with regards to “innocent passage” through Mauritian waters and should propose to the IMO that its waters be designated a Particular Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA), whereby an Area-to-Be-Avoided (ATBA) 50 nautical miles from shore for any transit shipping is established. [In my view, this is a highly important recommendation with the potential to protect not just Mauritius but other vulnerable island states and territories near busy shipping lanes worldwide.]

    From L’Express today: Number of dead dolphins is now 39 and a variety of local and foreign marine biologists and conservation experts believe this is “just the beginning” of the ecological impacts. “Oceanographer Vassen Kauppaymuthoo says: “ We should expect to see sea turtles, fish and corals slowly dying.” He said it will be necessary to avoid seafood for a year, even two years. Sébastien Sauvage of Eco-sud says:“Six types of environment will be disrupted. The reef, seagrass beds, rivers, wetlands, mangroves and islets.”

  3. No one is more blinder than those who close their eyes
    So r some fools in Mauritius who still don’t want to see the great harm done due to the reluctance this govt in taking quick action
    Those who are still believing that all was well done during the wakashio wreck, are simply trying to get themselves into gud books of govt leaders just only to gain some consideration
    And further more zeros nothing wrong in this march(protests)coz it’s been approved by the authorities.

  4. Mister Spark, Thank you for that time and effort. It is appreciated. It has satisfied a need to read something detailed and substantial as regards bringing the negligent to book (…and yes, I do think dolphins are wonderful and cute but that is just an element of our natural gifts of Life that are being recklessly destroyed). The impact in terms of damage to [heatlhy] life and livelihoods over the next 2-3 years is immense in around Mauritius. There are so many unreported criminally negligent actions and omissions perpetrated against the marine environment, it is breathtaking and difficult to quantify in financial terms. Despite the section of the hemisphere affected, one thing of which I am certain is that $500 million isn’t reeeaallly going to do it. Tu piges, mon gars??? I tip my cap to you (and hide burning full eyes). As a respectful outsider, I will be watching out carefully for how the “legal guardians” of this beautiful island nation (economically reliant on tourism) values itself and metes out justice in cases environmental assault. There will be many outsiders waiting… and watching…

  5. Could be something bigger than Venezuela, cote d’ivoire…the truth will show up anyway…seems like big money was involved for hiding something very fast under 2000 meters…reminds me beyrouth.

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