Towing and Sinking Leaking Fuel Tanker ‘the Worst’ Option: Environmentalists

Greenpeace and other environmental groups have blasted the Mauritian government’s decision to tow and then sink the Japanese tanker MV Wakashio— which went aground in a lagoon on the island nation’s shore last month and subsequently began leaking oil—over concerns about whale nursing grounds where the world’s largest mammals migrate from Antarctica.

“Out of all available options, the Mauritian government is choosing the worst one,” said Happy Khambule, Greenpeace Africa’s Senior Climate and Energy Campaign Manage. “Sinking this vessel would risk biodiversity and contaminate the ocean with large quantities of heavy metal toxins, threatening other areas as well, notably the French island of La Reunion.”

In the aftermath of the grounding, the vessel’s captain, identified by authorities as Sunil Kumar Nandeshwar, 58, of India, has been charged by Mauritius with endangering safe navigation. While authorities have not yet released a cause for the mishap, speculation on the topic has made its way into a variety of published and broadcast reports. Some of those stories say the crew was distracted while celebrating a birthday, while others hold that the vessel got too close to shore while seeking a WiFi connection.

The Mauritian government announced plans Aug. 20 to sink the Japanese bulk carrier about eight miles off the coast of Mauritius, after the front of the vessel was towed away by two tug boats flying Maltese flags. About 90 tons of fuel are believed to still be on board the rear end of the ship, which remains stranded. The ship originally held about 400 tons of oil.

A man cleans up after the sinking the MV Wakashio vessel. (Greenpeace/Real Press) 

The oil spill in an undated photograph. (Greenpeace/Real Press)The decisiondrew the immediate ire from a variety of ecological advocacy organizations, including Greenpeace, which made images of the vessel, the oil slick and damage-control efforts available to Zenger News. In a statement obtained by Zenger News, Greenpeace said by sinking the ship, the vessel’s owners “are adopting a typical trick of the oil industry: burying their problems and expecting the world to move on.”

Greenpeace’s Khambule said, “Mauritians had nothing to gain from the MV Wakashio crossing their waters, and are now asked to pay the price of this disaster. More pollution further risks their tourist-based economy and fish-based food security.”

Former Greenpeace executive Sunil Dowarkasing, who has functioned as the organisation’s informal representative on the island since the stranding of MV Wakashio, believes it would be better to tow the 990-foot-long vessel to a shipyard to be scrapped. Dowarkasing, who runs a an environmental consultancy in Mauritius, concedes that such a solution would undoubtedly be more expensive than the sinking option, as the ship would likely need to be taken more than 3,000 miles to an Indian scrapyard capable of dismantling a ship of its size.

Dowarkasing also said that the plan to simply sink such a huge ship so relatively close to the shore at a depth of 2,000 feet has caused “a lot of outcry” in the local population.

Mauritius faces no legal prohibitions from sinking the MV Wakashio, since the island nation has not signed the London Convention, which prohibits pollution of the oceans. However, Greenpeace hopes the nationality of the boats towing the front part of the vessel to sea may bolster their efforts to get the MV Wakashio towed.

The MV Wakashio vessel during the clean up.(Greenpeace/Real Press) 

The MV Wakashio vessel during the clean up.(Greenpeace/Real Press)“As a party to the London Convention 1972, Malta is required to prohibit and prevent its vessels from dumping waste including vessels at sea, if polluting content has not been removed to the maximum extent.”

Vijay Naraidoo, co-director of local human rights group Dis Moi, said in the Greenpeace statement that both organizations “stand with the affected communities in Mauritius and expect the polluters to pay for this environmental catastrophe. This means ignoring the cheapest, fastest option and instead putting the ocean and the people first.”

The damage caused by the spill amount to an “ecological disaster,” said Vikash Tatayah, conservation director at the Mauritius Wildlife Foundation who holds a doctorate in seabird biology.  The Maritius native told Zenger News he and his colleagues are in a race against time to protect what say are endangered species facing extinction because of the oil spill.

“The MWF has spent nearly 40 years working on these islands and restoring these islands and [the spill] is heartbreaking to the hundreds of people that have worked, mostly by volunteering, for months and years to restore these species and these ecosystems.”

The MV Wakashio vessel during the clean up.(Greenpeace/Real Press)According to the foundation, Mauritius, an island more than 8.9 million years old, has “around 685 native species of flowering plants, of which 267 species are endemic” and at least 89 percent of them are currently threatened. There are also dozens of endemic animals there, most of which are either critically endangered, or have already gone extinct.

(Edited by Matt Hall and Stephen Gugliociello.) 

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