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Wakashio's Owner Files Suit to Limit Damages

wakashio
File image courtesy IMO

Published Nov 22, 2021 10:34 PM by The Maritime Executive

The owner of the grounded bulker Wakashio has petitioned Mauritius' Supreme Court to limit individual claims to about $16.5 million, the company confirmed in a statement to local outlet Le Mauricien. 

The Wakashio went aground on a reef off Mahebourg, Mauritius on July 25, 2020. Despite salvage and debunkering efforts, she spilled an estimated 1,000 tonnes of fuel oil into the pristine waters of an adjacent coral lagoon. Wave action hindered cleanup efforts and put additional stress on the ship's hull, and she broke in two about three weeks after going aground. Her bow section was towed away and sunk, and wreck-removal efforts for her stern began in February 2021. 

Mauritius Fisheries Minister Sudheer Maudhoo had promised that local fishermen would receive additional compensation of about $3,000 each in connection with the fuel oil spill, but the shipowner's legal filing appears to throw doubt on that plan.

"We gave false hopes to the fishermen, we made them believe that they were going to have Rs 134,000 [$3,000] and now, we have just said the opposite. We must stop bluffing," said Tony Apollon, a spokesman for local fishing interests.

In a statement, shipowner Okiyo Maritime Corporation confirmed that it has sued to limit damages. "Okiyo Maritime Corp. believes it is entitled to limit its liability in relation to the MV Wakashio incident to 12,743,856 Special Drawing Rights, which is equivalent to MUR 719 658 463.31 [$16.5 million]," the company said in a statement. "[The firm knows it] will also have to answer for damage related to the environment and other property."

To date, the government of Mauritius and private individuals have submitted damage claims totaling about $46 million, according to Minister Maudhoo. He told L'Express that more than a year after the grounding, Okiyo's insurer has still paid just $1.9 million of that amount.

"The reluctance of the insurer to pay the claims is beyond comprehension because my ministry has assisted them at all levels," Maudhoo said. 

At the wreck site, the Chinese-led project to remove the stern has made on-and-off progress. The deckhouse and engine have been scrapped, leaving only the keel. A total of about 2,500 tonnes of metal have been pulled from the water so far, according to local media. Small, additional releases of fuel oil have been periodically reported during demolition, and a spill-response company has been dispatched to conduct cleanup.