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The Wakashio 3 years later

This article was first published in Scubaverse, and it helped explains a little of what happened. You can find links to the videos at the end.

The Wakashio Oil Spill in Mauritius July 2020

When a woman cuts her hair to save her Island you know it’s got to be a really special place. Two women that I know have both made this sacrifice. Monica could sit on her hair. Now its gone into the bales to soak up oil. Hair absorbs eight time its weight in oil, and when there are potentially 4000 tons about to pour onto your coastline, sometimes it’s the only thing you can do to help. All over Mauritius women have been cutting their hair to contribute to the sugar can trash and bagasse being packed into home -made floating barricades to contain the catastrophic effects of bunker oil pouring from the hull of the Wakashio.

The WAKASHIO is a 200,000 ton bulk carrier 300 meters long.

It is registered in Panama. Built in 2007 it is the responsibility of Nagashiki Shipping of Japan. It’s a 21st Century ship with ultra modern technology. No way should it hit the reef. And it was 200 nautical miles off course from Singapore to Brazil. This 300 metre bulk carrier ship was mysteriously run aground in the extreme south of Mauritius on the reef at Point Desney listed under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.

I got a call from the Coast Guard who tell me when anything that may affect diving happens.

"That will be an expensive salvage job for someone, who will do it?" I asked. Marine salvage is big business, and this ship was huge. Salvage fees increase with the size and value of the ship. The salvage crew get a percentage of the value of the vessel, paid directly by the insurers.

"No no Madame, the owners do not want anyone to salvage it. They will send a crew from Holland in about three weeks.This is a 200 000 tonne bulk carrier. Nobody has the expertise to manage such a big ship." I was impressed, and looked it up.

At the end of 2 weeks the ship was still there. The sea conditions deteriorated and the hull, trapped on the coral reef breached, and black noxious bunker oil began to flow out onto the reef.

The hull split

The oil spread incredibly quickly, and the Mauritian Government call for National Mobilization while our beautiful turquoise ocean turned black.

Team Ocean Spirit went down on Saturday and spent the entire day deploying bales. Kevin our Dive Centre Manager came back shaken and shocked. It’s chaos he said. How do they expect to contain that mess with sugar cane trash women’s hair and shade cloth? He said that the stink was horrific, that the oil sludge was toxic and that the guys should not go down on Sunday but recover from the fumes.

Kevin and the team from Ocean Spirit went to help

He was wrong. It took a week and involved the entire island. Everything stopped and everyone got involved. It was awe inspiring. Under the control of the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Headed up by the Commissioner of Police and assisted by Ministers with relevant Portfolios, the MSDA (Mauritian Scuba Diving Association) NGO Reef Conservation, Business Mauritius, The Chemical Industry, NGO Wildlife Mauritius, The Beach Authority, The Tourism Authority and health officials Mauritius leaders met to strategize.

Why was I there, as all journalists were excluded? Well, the MSDA Marketing and PR guy was sick and in Reunion in hospital and they needed someone to write what was happening as it happened. I write a little, and have a business history of supplying absorbent material for oil spills, and I was honoured to step in to help.

The strategic deployment plan

Every day the various specialist bodies met to strategise from 2 until 4pm. At 4 pm the meeting was over because the Prime Minister arrived so the Committee could report to him.

The sugar industry offered cane trash and bagasse. Construction companies offered miles of shade cloth. Clothing manufacturers provided absorbent cotton fabric and the fishing industry supplied miles of fishing line. The health officials provided masks and gloves, and the Eco Sud guys guided the teams on safe retrieval of the oil. The local population did the rest. All over the island, people stitched bales and stuffed them with oil absorbent material. Small fishing boats carried the barrages out to the oil.

Collecting cane trash and stuffing shade cloth snakes.

Others went down to the affected areas to save the fish trapped in the oil coated mangroves. Ile Aigrettes was severely affected. Volunteers collected all the birds off the Island and brought them to safety. On Monday I was asked to go to Resiglas the boat builders swimming pool manufacturers and septic tank builders who provided drums to store the oil. They had cut a styrene block to support one of the pumps and asked me to take it down to Mahebourg. I was dreading this and expected to see chaos and oil.

Resiglas who built our precious boat, supplied the empty drums of resin that stored the recovered and very expensive LSFO fuel oil.

Unbelievably within 2 days the bulk of the oil around Point D’Esney and Mahebourg had been contained, removed and clean barriers placed.

Nando and Dooshun carrying rope for the snakes that were attached to the fishing boats to soak up the oil

They were deployed around the oil spill to prevent it reaching the beaches

The French had sent a ship, 2 planes full of pumping equipment, a team of pollution control specialists and drones and helicopters to identify spots in need of help. We cannot predict the full impact this has had on the corals, the ocean is now almost clean. Thanks to teamwork and a small amount to the ladies of Mauritius who shaved their heads.

The final oil removed by choppers

July 17, 2023

The Insurers appointed and paid experts to restore the area. This took several dive centres and took around a year. Now everything is back to normal.

Naturally, 3 years on there is still the silence that accompanies a sub judice legal wrangle between the government and the insurers. But the ocean benefitted from the influx of cash and the raised awareness of marine life.

Best of all the attention of the Mauritian Government was drawn to the beauty and touristic value of the marine life that our 2.3 million square kilometre Oceanographic state offers, and has implemented the Fisheries and Marine Resources Act.

And we are seeing dense shoals of fish again


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