Accusations Emerge of Misconduct as Clean-up Continues in Mauritius
With the situation mostly stable at the wreck site of the bulk carrier Wakashio, much of the drama has moved to shore where the cleanup and investigations are underway. At the same time, a broad range of accusations is emerging as pressure increases on the shipowner, charterer and now on the government of Mauritius.
Political opponents have already begun their criticism of the government saying it failed to respond quickly enough in the days after the grounding on July 25 and before the ship began to leak oil on August 6. They are highlighting the president’s statements that Mauritius did not have the capabilities to deal with the impending disaster made only after the ship’s fuel tanks ruptured.
Adding to the controversies are reports emerging in the local newspaper L’Express regarding the potential testimony of crew members being interviewed by the Central Criminal Investigation Department (CCID) and investigators with the Mauritius Shipping bureau. Reportedly, the crew members told investigators that the Wakashio intentionally steered closer to the Mauritius shore seeking local Wi-Fi signals possibly during or after a party held on board to celebrate a crew member’s birthday.
The newspaper is also reporting that the police are interviewing the crew members and an interview with the captain of the Wakashio, an Indian national by the name of Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, was pending.
Faced with a barrage of negative reports, mounting frustration from residents and environmentalists over the scope of the disaster, and political criticisms, the government issued a formal request for compensation from the shipowner, Nagashiki Shipping Co. Ltd, and its charterer, Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL).
“We can confirm the Mauritius government have requested compensation from us. We are fully aware of the responsibilities of the parties concerned and will respond in good faith to any damages in accordance with applicable law. We apologize for the inconvenience caused to people in Mauritius and other parties involved. We will continue to do our utmost to minimize the impact of oil spill recovery and environmental pollution,” the company said in a written statement attributed to Kiyoaki Nagashiki, a representative director.
Nagashiki’s statement went on to say that its representatives had arrived in Mauritius and that it would “continue to consider the additional dispatch of personnel and transportation of supplies.” The company said that it will fully cooperate with the authorities of Mauritius and Japan to work to resolve the situation as soon as possible and will do its best to prevent the spread of oil and protect the environment. “The cause of the incident is not known and will be fully investigated.”
For its part, Mitsui after apologizing in Japan nearly a week ago appears to be distancing itself by now issuing statements saying this is the information we received from the owners. MOL also has personnel in Mauritius while saying, “MOL are doing everything possible to support the efforts of owner and manager, Nagashiki Shipping and their appointed teams in mitigating the effects of the spill. MOL deplores any incident of oil pollution and continues to offer support to all involved in the response.”
"This oil spill is a tragic and devastating reminder that fossil fuels are toxic, and our reliance on them puts both people and the planet at risk. Now is the time to build a better future, and urgent action must be taken." >> https://t.co/OZ3DcHOy7G #BreakFreeFromFossilFuels— Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeaceafric) August 14, 2020
Local and international environmentalists have also joined in adding their calls for action. In an open letter to the senior executives at MOL and Nagashiki, Greenpeace acknowledged the companies statements saying, “Your apology is a first step, but you need to take full responsibility and pay for all the current and future damages, including the lost livelihoods that you destroyed.” Among the additional actions that Greenpeace is calling for is the initiation and funding of a fully public independent investigation as well as the companies commitment to stop using the sea route around Mauritius and to “get out of fossil fuels.” Greenpeace concluded by requesting a written response within one week.
Recapping the situation at the ship, the prime minister of Mauritius said in a press conference on August 13 that only 166 tons of fuel remained aboard the Wakashio, not in the tanks but having leaked inside the hull. He estimated that nearly 3,200 tons had been pumped off the ship leaving between 800 and 1,000 tons to have spilled into the ocean. He said that in the next phase of the effort, aided by favorable weather and sea conditions, the salvage teams would be removing other hazardous material from the ship such as batteries.
On August 14, however, cameras again spotted oil leaking from the ship. The local newspaper L’Express was reporting sources as saying it was from the bilges and the residuals left aboard the crippled ship. They were confident that this leak would be contained by the approximately 1,520 meters of oil booms that have been deployed in strategic locations to contain the pollution.