Disasters & Accidents

Mauritius faces its worst ecological crisis after marine oil leak

By Patricia Martinez

Nairobi, Aug 16 (efe-epa).- A 300-meter-long cargo ship that split in two, leaking over 800 metric tons of oil off Mauritius, represents the worst ecological disaster the island has ever seen.

Experts and scientists consider it to be an unprecedented disaster for the island of just over 1.2 million inhabitants, where mangroves, corals and endemic species attract over a million tourists a year.

“The impact of the oil leak will last for a long time,” Mokshanand Sunil Dowarkasing, the environmental advisor in Mauritius, told Efe on phone.

“We will need at least a year to learn the real impact” of this catastrophe, he said.

“Only then we will know whether or not the mangroves will be able to survive this contamination, whether or not new coral will germinate in the lagoons, etc.,” he added.

That scenario would affect around 29,000 Mauritians who depend on the fishing industry – 4 percent of whom are women, according to data issued by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization – and also damage the thriving aquaculture sector.

“I am concerned not only about the ecological impact of this disaster, but also about the impact it will have on the way people make a living, especially women who make a living from fishing or caring for boats,” local activist Trisha Gukhool told Efe.

The Japanese-owned, Panamanian-flagged MW Wakashio was on its way to Brazil when it ran aground on Pointe d’Esny’s reefs off the southeastern coast of Mauritius on 25 July, leading to the leak of over 800 metric tons of oil

Yesterday, the ship split in two as expected by the authorities after they had managed to pump over 3,000 metric tons of oil over the previous days.

Police chief Khemraj Servansing told local media that there were 50 metric tons of oil left in the ship when it broke in two, which could be the reason for a small oil leak detected on Sunday.

Mauritius Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth said last night that he has been honest about the ship, in response to people accusing his government of inaction and mismanagement of this crisis.

He assumed the responsibility for handling the disaster, as he marked the 73rd anniversary of Mauritius’s independence from India.

An investigation has been opened into the accident and the results are to be published, he added.

For their part, environmental organizations such as Greenpeace believe that this unprecedented ecological crisis should serve to “accelerate the process of liberation from the use of fossil fuels,” the director of climate and energy campaigns for Africa, Happy Khambule, told Efe.

Japan’s Nagashiki Shipping company, the owner of the ship, vowed on 13 August to pay compensation “according to the law.”

The promise came hours after Mauritius announced the possibility of claiming compensation once the investigation is completed.

“The State of Mauritius holds the ship owner and insurer liable for all the losses and damage caused outside the ship,” the government said in a statement.

It also announced it had launched an online platform through which claims for compensation can be submitted.

“Every claim made therein will be channeled to the ship owners and/or insurer for assessment and approval,” the statement ran.

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