Oceans

Mauritius arrests the ship’s captain as it keeps leaking oil after splitting in two

The cargo ship that ran aground off the coast of Mauritius on 25 July, causing incalculable damage, has split in two and its captain has been arrested.

On 25th of July, the MV Wakashio cargo ship – Japan-owned but flying a Panamanian flag – ran aground due to bad weather near a coral reef off the coast of Mauritius. On the 9th of August, Mauritian Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth declared: “The ship could split in two”. Exactly one week later, this fear became a reality and the ship broke apart. Only two days afterwards, Inspector Siva Coothen told Reuters: “We’ve arrested the captain of the vessel and another member of the crew. After having been heard by the court they’ve been denied bail and are still in detention”. Captain Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar and his deputy are both accused of violating piracy and maritime violence acts.

What was aboard the MV Wakashio ship

The MV Wakashio was filled with 4,000 tonnes of hydrocarbon fuels, most of which, about 3,000 tonnes, were removed after the ship ran aground. However, the prospect of an ecological disaster has become a reality. With operations still ongoing, it’s becoming harder and harder to remove the oil that’s still on board, estimated to be around 90 tonnes. Mauritian authorities have announced that they’ll try to drag the two parts of the hull to a less environmentally sensitive area, however this will also cause more oil to be poured into the open ocean.

The final outcome is likely to be unprecedented environmental damage. “This is the first time that we’re faced with a catastrophe of this kind and we’re insufficiently equipped to handle this problem,” according to Fishing Minister Sudheer Maudhoo. Mauritius is home unique flora and fauna, thanks to the biodiversity of its coral reef. The country’s 1.3 million inhabitants depend on fishing and tourism for their survival and this disaster could have terrible repercussions for them.

mauritius oil spill
According to BBC correspondent Navid Singh Khadka, the damage extends for about 80 square kilometres because the amount of oil spilt is around 1,000 tonnes

How bad is the damage?

Satellite images taken by US-based company Ursa Space Systems on the 11th of August suggest that the oil spill has spread to at least 27 square kilometres of the Indian Ocean. However, according to BBC correspondent Navid Singh Khadka, the extent of the damage is actually likely to be three times as much, considering that the total amount of oil spilt is around 1,000 tonnes. Prime Minister Jugnauth has declared a state of emergency and the Indian government has sent a group of technicians and experts to help local authorities handle the crisis.

According to Greenpeace Africa, thousands of animal species are now at risk, as are the people of Mauritius who depend on the ocean for their food security.

volunteers clean up oil spill in Mauritius
Volunteers working to clean up the oil spill in Mauritius © Daren Mauree/L’Express Maurice/Afp via Getty Images

The captain’s arrest

The Mauritius coastguard tried repeatedly to get in contact with the ship to warn it that it was on a dangerous course but failed to receive a reply, according to what a witness – a maritime official who prefers to remain anonymous – told Reuters.

“The route set five days before the crash was wrong and the boat navigation system should have signalled that to the crew and it seems the crew ignored it,” the official continues. “The boat did also fail to send out an SOS (when it ran aground), and didn’t respond to attempts by the coastguard to get in touch”.

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